UCSB takes its first road trip of the men’s basketball season today, although it will be going over familiar territory.
The Gauchos (3-0), who beat Loyola Marymount (2-3) 69-58 on Sunday, will play the Lions in a rematch at 2 p.m. at Gersten Pavilion in Westchester.
“You have to have mental toughness and be locked into a game plan to beat someone twice,” senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin said.
He sat out the season opener with a mild muscle strain but played 37 minutes in Sunday’s game against LMU.
“I worked on my conditioning over the summer and I feel I can do whatever coach wants me to do,” McLaughlin said.
His 19-point performance against the Lions improved his season average to 14.0. He’s also handing out 6.0 assists per game.
“JaQuori is a big-time talent,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “His ability to not only score but to make the right read in a situation is what makes him so special.”
The Gauchos have also gotten a potent one-two punch up front with 6-9 junior Amadou Sow (16.0 points) and 6-10 Miles Norris (11.7).
“That was our first real test of the season,” Norris said of the Lions. “They’re a good team, and now we’ve got to get ready to play against them again on Saturday.”
UCSB had to out-shoot LMU 48% to 30.5% to overcome the Lions’ 46-27 dominance of the backboards. LMU rebounded 24 of its own misses.
Its two beefiest players got the Lion’s share, with both recording double-doubles. Senior Eli Scott (6-5, 232 pounds) had 31 points and eight offensive rebounds (12 total) while sophomore Keli Leaupepe (6-6, 248) added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“This guy Eli Scott is a monster,” Pasternack said of the returning All-WCC first-team guard. “We have to figure out what to do with him. He’s got a mental advantage on us.”
LMU struggled to make its outside shots at the Thunderdome, sinking just 1-for-14 from the three-point line. The Lions do have a pair of accomplished three-point threats in 6-2 junior guard Joe Quintana (42.9%, 11.4 points per game), and 6-7 wing man Dameane Douglas (41.7%, 11.0), who was a WCC All-Freshman Team pick last year.
“They’ve already played a Big 10 team (Minnesota) twice, they beat a Southern Utah team that swept Montana — the best team in the Big Sky — and they beat Long Beach State by 20-something points,” Pasternack said of the Lions. “They’re hitting their stride right now whereas that game was our first test.
“Obviously, Saturday will be much more difficult, playing the same team twice.”
Although the sample size and size of the first two opponents were both small, the Gauchos rank among the national team leaders in eight categories. In spite of Sunday’s game, that even includes rebound margin, where they rate 10th at plus-15.7.
UCSB is also first in both assists per game (24.7) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.55), second in scoring margin (49.7 points), fifth in field-goal percentage (58.2%), sixth in scoring offense (94.7 points per game), 11th in field-goal percentage defense (33.9%) and 13th in scoring defense (55.0).
Their bench has been productive, with two sophomore transfers scoring double figures: 6-4 guard Josh Pierre-Louis (11.0) and 6-3 guard Ajare Sanni (10.0). Robinson Idehen, a 6-10 senior, isn’t far behind at 8.3 points with a team-best 8.0 rebounds per game.
The Gauchos figure they need all hands on deck to beat LMU again.
“They’re an aggressive team,” Norris said, “and we’ll have to respond to that.”