The UCSB men’s basketball team got back on track Saturday by riding its guard-rails.
The starting backcourt of JaQuori McLaughlin and Devearl Ramsey, along with reserve guard Ajare Sanni, combined for 54 points in the Gauchos’ 75-63 victory at Pepperdine.
The offense clicked, with all but five of UCSB’s 25 baskets coming on an assist.
“I think we’re one of the top teams in the country for assists right now,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “That’s a big thing when you have such talented guys, to sell them on sharing the ball for the betterment of the team. That’s not easy to come by.
“Chemistry is such a big deal.”
UCSB (4-1), which suffered its first defeat last Saturday at Loyola Marymount, held the Lions’ West Coast Conference rival to just 38.6% shooting. That included 16.7% (3-for-18) from the three-point line.
The Gauchos, who shot 45% overall and 39% from three, also held a 39-33 rebound advantage. The Waves (4-4) had toughened themselves with close defeats to UCLA and San Diego State, and victories over Cal and UC Irvine.
“I think especially in the first half, we defended at an unbelievably high level, holding them to 28 points and 1-for-9 from three,” Pasternack said. “It was huge to hold a team as explosive as they are offensively — I think they’re one of the top offensive teams in the country — to just 38%, and to out-rebound them by six.
“That’s what we didn’t do against Loyola Marymount. I thought our guys really competed.”
McLaughlin continued to thrive against WCC competition, leading UCSB in scoring for the third straight game with 23 points — just one off his career-high. The 6-foot-4 senior, who torched Loyola Marymount for 19 and 21 points in last week’s doubleheader, made 7-of-11 shots including a three-pointer and 8-of-9 free throws on Saturday. He also handed out a career-high eight assists.
“JaQuori is a big-time player,” Pasternack said. “He found a lot of ways to help us win, and he’s been pretty consistent the past three games.”
McLaughlin didn’t waste time, hitting a three off Ramsey’s assist in the first 30 seconds to ignite UCSB’s 11-2 start. Ramsey and Sanni capped the early outburst with back-to-back threes, both assisted by McLaughlin.
Ramsey scored a season-high 15 which included 3-for-6 from three and 4-for-4 foul shooting.
“Devearl Ramsey might have had his best game as a Gaucho on both sides of the ball,” Pasternack said. “He was terrific defensively. It takes team defense, though, and we played great team defense.”
The Gauchos never trailed, although Pepperdine got as close as 19-18 after Andre Ball, the cousin of NBA star Lonzo Ball, scored a runner.
UCSB answered with a 12-2 run. Sanni fueled it with seven points during a 60-second flurry which included a pair of threes. The sophomore transfer from Pacific came off the bench to score 16 points, making 5-of-8 from three-point distance.
“He’s a huge weapon for us,” Pasternack said. “He’s an elite shooter — we made 9-of-23 threes and he had 5-of-8, and some long ones, too.
“But he can also do so much other stuff in growing his game to become a complete player. I’m really looking forward to watching him grow the next couple of years.”
Pepperdine needed Colbey Ross, a Watch List candidate for both the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy, to make a corner three and bring the Waves to within 32-23 by halftime. He finished with 20 points and six assists.
Forward Kessler Edwards, their other 20 points-a-game scorer, was held by Amadou Sow to 1-for-7 shooting in the first half. He left the game for good early in the second half after taking an elbow to the chest.
Sow, who made just 4-of-13 shots, did get 10 of his game-high 12 rebounds during the first 20 minutes.
“He had just one rebound at home against Loyola Marymount and he gets 12 today,” Pasternack said. “He’s got to focus on that and rebound and the rest will take care of itself.
“He got some really good looks and some just didn’t go down, but I thought he got great position inside. His offense will come. But he did an unbelievable job defending ball screens. That’s where we made so many mistakes last week against Loyola Marymount.”
UCSB jumped on Pepperdine again in the second half. Sow scored a pair of hook shots off feeds from McLaughlin during the first three minutes. Ramsey added a runner off Brandon Cyrus’ fast-break pass to give the Gauchos their biggest lead, 37-23.
The Waves made several runs at UCSB, getting within 38-34 and 44-41. But the Gauchos went to the three to push them back both times — the first by Sanni and the next by Ramsey. Another three by Ramsey put UCSB’s lead back into double-digits, 54-44.
Pepperdine gave itself one last chance with a five-point possession. Kendall Munson scored inside while getting fouled. And although he missed the free throw, the Waves got the long rebound and fed Ross for a long three-pointer. Two free throws by Robbie Heath reduced UCSB’s margin to 54-51 with 7:36 to go.
But McLaughlin took over by scoring eight of the Gauchos’ next 10 points. They included a dazzling, fast-break pass from Josh Pierre-Louis in which the sophomore transfer spun completely around to avoid a defender.
“He’s as talented an individual athlete as I’ve ever coached,” Pasternack said. “He does some unbelievable stuff, but I’m starting to get used to it because I see it in practice. He gets four assists and just one turnover, which is huge.”
UCSB outscored Pepperdine 10-5 during the outburst for a 64-56 lead with 3:06 remaining. Pierre-Louis scored the Gauchos’ other basket in the run after a leaping interception.
A hook shot by Miles Norris, Sanni’s final three-pointer, and 6-for-6 foul shooting capped UCSB’s victory.
The Gauchos won’t return to action until next Sunday when they open Big West Conference play with back-to-back games at UC Irvine.