RIVERSIDE – UCSB could have trouble right here in Riverside City, with a capital T … and that stands for three-pointer.
Gaucho coach Joe Pasternack doesn’t need the Music Man to sound the alarm. He’s well aware that tonight’s 7 o’clock game at UC Riverside could be a trap for his club, especially with a nationally televised contest at Big West Conference leader UC Irvine looming on Saturday.
“I don’t think we’re good enough to look ahead to anybody,” he said. “We understand that anybody in this league can beat us.
“As I said before the conference even started, Irvine counts as one win or loss, and Riverside counts as one win or loss. That’s just the bottom line. We have to be locked in to do what we do, and do it better.”
Although Riverside (8-17, 2-7 Big West) is mired in eighth place in the conference standings, it’s also first in three-point accuracy at 37 percent, which ranks 63rd nationally. The Highlanders are making 8.5 threes per game.
“That’s what they do best,” Pasternack said. “That’s obviously a big concern for us.”
Three of the league’s six most-accurate three-point shooters are from Riverside, with 6-foot-8 sophomore Ajani Kennedy ranking first at .473. Dragan Elkaz, a 6-5 freshman, is fifth at .438 and 6-1 junior Dikymbe Martin is sixth at .433.
Martin also ranks seventh in the Big West in both scoring at 15.5 points per game and in field-goal percentage at .478.
“Martin is a great player who can really score the ball,” Pasternack said. “He’s really good both on the ball and off the ball.
“Every team in this league seems to have that one great guard. We have to do a great job of defending him. We didn’t do a great job on T.J. Shorts (in Saturday’s 61-57 loss to UC Davis).
Three-point defense has been a strength for UCSB (17-6, 6-3 Big West), which ranks seventh in the NCAA by holding opponents to just 27.9 percent shooting from distance.
The Gauchos also look good on paper with their rebounding, with a No. 10 national rating in rebound margin at plus-7.8. But Pasternack noted that the Highlanders out-rebounded his team 37-27 at the Thunderdome on Jan. 12, reclaiming 14 of their own misses, before falling 72-64.
“They really hurt us there, out-rebounding us like that,” Pasternack said. “With our home losses to UC Irvine and UC Davis, we were just a rebound away from winning those games.
“The bottom line is that we have to finish games.”
UCSB is 3-1 in Big West road games, losing only at Cal State Fullerton. It also has yet to lose back-to-back games all season.
The Gauchos beat Riverside at the Thunderdome last month, getting 22 points and nine rebounds from 6-9 freshman Amadou Sow. He is scoring 11.0 points per game, tied with guard Devearl Ramsey for second on the team behind 6-6 graduate transfer Ar’Mond Davis’ 13.8-point average.
UCSB is also riding a four-game winning streak against the Highlanders, but Pasternack recalls that last year’s 76-69 victory at Riverside as being “a real battle.”
He’s expecting nothing less again tonight.