LAFAYETTE, La. — UCSB finished fast and furiously on Sunday after starting Saturday’s basketball trip to Cajun Country with 14 arduous hours of travel.
“We were a little annoyed yesterday, but today we didn’t think about it,” JaQuori McLaughlin said after his 17-point, five-assist performance led the Gauchos to an 85-77 victory at the University of Louisiana. “We were just ready to go and were locked in.”
UCSB (10-4) broke open a tied game by out-scoring the Ragin’ Cajuns 40-32 in the final 13 minutes to claim their fourth-straight win and ninth in 10 games.
The Gauchos shot 70.8% in the second half — 51.8% for the game — and made their final 10 free throws after having missed eight of their previous 20.
“I’m just so proud of our guys, going through what we went through yesterday,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “We talk about attitude a lot, and the way we describe it is that when adversity hits, it’s 10% of what happens and 90% of how you respond to it.”
UCSB had to change its travel plans on Saturday after its 11:36 a.m. flight out of Santa Barbara was cancelled by bad weather in Dallas. The Gauchos were taken by bus to Los Angeles International Airport where they caught a 7:30 p.m. flight to New Orleans.
They didn’t check into their hotel until after 1 a.m., and their two-hour bus ride on Sunday didn’t deliver them to the Cajundome in Lafayette until just an hour and 50 minutes before tipoff.
“I thought all day today our preparation was excellent — from getting the right sleep, to eating the right food at breakfast, and walking through (the game plan) at the hotel because we didn’t have enough time for a shoot-around,” Pasternack said. “I thought our guys really honored the process today.”
UCSB had to withstand a second-half challenge from Louisiana (5-8), which made 7-of-14 three-pointers in the period and 10-of-20 in the game.
“I thought maybe our legs wore down at the end of the game,” Pasternack said. “In the second half, we didn’t defend like we did in the first — they shot 40% in first half and 51% in the second.
“But we really caught fire offensively. It was probably one of our best offensive halves of the year.”
UCSB missed four of its first six shots, falling behind 9-5 on a three-pointer by Trajan Wesley. He led the Cajuns with 17 points and five assists.
Both of the Gauchos’ big men, Amadou Sow and Robinson Idehen, got two fouls apiece during the first 4½ minutes of the game. But Idehen kept UCSB ahead (21-18) nevertheless with a put-back and a spectacular, one-handed follow dunk.
“When Amadou went out — he only played five minutes in the first half — Robinson came off the bench and scored 10 points and got eight rebounds — five offensive rebounds in the first half,” Pasternack said. “Robinson kept us in it during the first half, no question about it.
“I thought everybody gave contributions tonight. Jay Nagle played his best defensive game since he’s been a Gaucho. To me, on film, Jalen Johnson is an NBA player, and Jay did an amazing job guarding him. Sékou Touré , Brandon Cyrus — they all just pitched in.
“This was a huge, great, team effort.”
Johnson’s 12 points came on 5-of-12 shooting. He was also held to just three rebounds. UCSB out-rebounded the Cajuns 36-22 while gaining a 13-3 advantage in offensive rebounding.
“I think that’s our identity right now,” Pasternack said. “We’re 10-1 when we out-rebound our opponents.”
Idehen led the Gauchos with eight rebounds in just 12 minutes and 25 seconds of playing time. Matt Freeman grabbed seven to go with 17 points. Cyrus added six rebounds while McLaughlin had five.
The Gauchos made only 1-of-8 three-pointers in the first half, although Devearl Ramsey’s bomb from the top and another put-back by Idehen gave them their biggest lead of the period, 26-20.
Ramsey sank 3-of-5 shots from three in the game to finish with 16 points. He’s made 9-of-17 from three in the last four games after having made just 5-of-25 in UCSB’s first 10 contests.
His three-point play off a running floater kept the gaucho lead at six, 29-23.
“Devearl is a good shooter, it just took time for that to come out,” Pasternack said. “The law of averages says he’s going to make his shots when they count.”
UCSB did miss its last four shots of the first half while committing a pair of turnovers. Idehen’s two free throws kept the Gauchos ahead 32-31 even though Nagle was called for a controversial goal-tending violation on Johnson’s final shot of the half.
“Something bad happens — a call that’s not a real call — and then how are you going to respond?” Pasternack said. “We can’t control the referees. We can’t control the opponent. All we can control is how we respond.
“Our guys did a great job today in a hostile situation.”
Idehen had eight points and seven rebounds in the first half alone. He, Sow, and Freeman — UCSB’s top three big men — all got their third fouls with more than 16 minutes still left in the game.
But Cyrus, who missed all six of his shots in the first half, kept the Gauchos ahead. He assisted Idehen’s layup while saving a ball from going out of bounds. He followed that up with a basket off McLaughlin’s pass for a 39-36 lead.
“We talk about being disciplined on offense and moving the ball around and trying to find the best shot,” McLaughlin said. “I thought we did a good job of that at the end of the game.”
Louisiana did that, as well, catching UCSB at 45-all on Dou Gueye’s three. Ramsey answered him just 16 seconds later, however, with a three of his own with 12:45 to go.
The Gauchos’ lead grew to 61-50 when Ramsey’s three touched off a nine-point run. It included Cyrus’ layup off a high-post pass from Sow, a layup by Touré following Sow’s blocked shot, and two free throws by Freeman after officials called a double-technical foul.
Cedric Russell also made his free throws from the technical fouls while scoring 16 points for Louisiana.
McLaughlin hit a mid-key jumper off a pass from Sow and then found Ramsey flashing to the basket with a long, skip pass. Ramsey’s layup put UCSB ahead 66-59.
“He gave me a look so I knew he was wide open,” McLaughlin said. “We’re roommates, so I think we’ve got a good connection.”
The Cajuns kept coming with threes by Johnson and Russell to draw within 66-62 with 4:05 remaining. But the Gauchos didn’t flinch, answering with Freeman’s three from the top, Ramsey’s step-back jumper, and Sow’s running hook.
Louisiana got within a single possession on Wesley’s three-point play, but McLaughlin took command from there. He scored a left-handed runner through the lane despite being knocked to the floor.
Ten seconds later, he grabbed Johnson’s three-point miss and was immediately fouled. He made both free throws for a 77-70 lead with 41.2 seconds to go.
“Last year I was hurt for four months and had a cast on my leg, so I wasn’t able to lift and get better during the summer,” McLaughlin said. “This summer I really focused on working with my trainers and teammates on getting stronger and more explosive.”
Freeman and Touré then sealed the deal, each going 4-for-4 from the line in the final 22.8 seconds.
“Having older guys on the team really helps us in staying cool under pressure, staying calm, and staying together at the end of games,” McLaughlin said.
UCSB will play host to Westmont College next Thursday and then open Big West Conference play on Jan. 8 at Cal Poly.
“It’s a big step for us,” McLaughlin said, “to go into conference on a winning streak.”