UCSB seeks a smoother road today when it travels to Cal State Northridge for a Friday-Saturday men’s basketball double-header.
The Gauchos, who are a perfect 7-0 at the Thunderdome this season, hope to even out their 1-3 road record in the pair of 4 p.m. games.
“It’s a totally different landscape when you play on the road in college basketball, I don’t care if there are fans in the stands or not,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “There’s just a comfortability factor.
“Hopefully, we’ve played on the road enough now and the guys are experienced enough to be ready to go.”
The statistics show glaring differences. The Gauchos (8-3, 4-2 Big West Conference) have made 51.9% of their shots at the Thunderdome and just 34.8% in away games. Their opponents have shot 37.4% at the Thunderdome and 50.3% against UCSB in their own arenas.
UCSB will need to put up a roadblock to contend with CSUN’s fast break today, Pasternack said.
“They’re No. 1 in our league for tempo — for playing a fast tempo,” he pointed out. “We’re going to have to do a great job of taking care of the basketball and taking good shots and having our best transition-defense game of the year.”
The game will pit some of the West Coast’s top point guards. The Matadors are led by Darius Brown II, the NCAA leader in assist-to-turnover ratio at 8.83. He also averages 10.2 points per game. UCSB’s two-headed backcourt of JaQuori McLaughlin and Devearl Ramsey rank seventh and ninth, respectively, in assist-to-turnover ratio.
McLaughlin, the Gauchos’ leading scorer at 15.7 points per game, is also 22nd in the nation in assist average at 6.0. Brown ranks 24th at 5.9.
“Darius Brown has improved over the past three years as much as anybody I’ve seen in college basketball,” Pasternack said. “He was the guy that, in his first year, we didn’t even guard so we could double Lamine (Diane). But he’s gotten much better and he can shoot and has become a really good player.
“Experience does a lot for you.”
McLaughlin is counting on UCSB’s own experience to overcome its road woes.
“We definitely have older guys who’ve been there, been through a lot,” he said. “We’re just using that experience on the court, just helping each other out.
“It’s about keeping everyone healthy, watching film and learning from our mistakes — trying not to make the same ones over and over. It’s about getting better every single game.”
CSUN (5-4, 1-1) is a bit of a mystery this season. Diane, the Big West Player of the Year the past two years, is now a member of the Delaware Blue Coats in the NBA’s G League. The Matadors’ next two leading scorers transferred out — guard Terrell Gomez to San Diego State and Elijah Harkless to Oklahoma.
Coach Mark Gottfried countered by bringing in his own transfers — wings TJ Starks from Texas A&M and Vante Hendrix from New Mexico. Starks is scoring 18.1 points per game and shooting 40% from three-point range. Hendrix is averaging 12.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Alex Merkviladze, 6-9 and 225-pound freshman from the Republic of George, has averages of 9.7 points and 6.9 rebounds.
“They’re very talented, they’re deep and they’re athletic,” Pasternack said. “They have good size and can score on the post or score on the perimeter. TJ Starks is probably one of the top two guards in our league.”
But Starks did not play for unexplained reasons in last weekend’s double-header at Cal State Fullerton. Lance Coleman II, a 6-foot-6 senior wing averaging 15.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, was also sidelined because of an injury. The Matadors have remained silent about their status for this weekend’s games.
CSUN, which hadn’t played since Dec. 28 because of COVID-19 issues, still managed a split at Fullerton. Sophomore guard Brendan Harrick scored 25 points on 7-for-10 shooting from three-point range in Friday’s game and freshman guard Atin Wright netted 22 on Saturday — two more than he’d scored all season.
“I’m really proud of our team, to play without our two leading scorers,” Gottfried said. “We took a long time off and you never know how a team will respond with that.”