Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.
But to experience March Madness, coach Joe Pasternack says his UCSB men’s basketball team must do the same things, back-to-back, to get the same winning result.
“This is kind of like the conference tournament, and it prepares you for it,” he said of the Gauchos’ consecutive games at UC Davis today and Saturday. Both contests will tip off at 4 p.m.
UCSB (10-3, 4-2 Big West Conference) has posted back-to-back victories on three separate weekends this month. It took its bye week during the other weekend.
UC Davis (3-3), which was sidelined for seven weeks by Yolo County Health Department restrictions, will be making its league debut today after having split last weekend’s non-conference double-header at UC San Diego. Games against the Tritons do not count in the league standings since they are still in transition from NCAA Division 2 to Division 1 status.
“We have a routine now to save their legs during the week,” Pasternack said just before UCSB’s bus pulled out of the Thunderdome lot for Thursday’s 382-mile drive to Davis. “But other than that, all we can focus on is (today’s) game. If we start thinking about the second game, you’ve got no chance.
“It’s all about, ‘Can we win the first game to get to the second game?’”
It’s a good mental exercise for the challenge of the Big West Conference Tournament. The event, which has been moved from Anaheim’s Honda Center to Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be played on March 9-13.
The Gauchos’ offense leads the Big West in scoring (80.3 per game, ranking 38th in the nation), field-goal percentage (49.8%, ranking 18th), assists per game (18.6, ranking eighth), and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.83, ranking fourth).
Senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin has led the way, ranking third in the Big West in scoring (16.9 points) and second in assists (5.3). He’s also in the top 10 in all three shooting categories: eighth in field goals (52.8%), third in free throws (89.7%), and seventh in three-pointers (43.8%, 1.75 per game).
But defense, Pasternack said, has been most responsible for UCSB’s six-game winning streak. McLaughlin and fellow senior Devearl Ramsey share the conference lead in steals with 22 apiece.
“Devearl, to me, has been a big reason that our defense has skyrocketed,” Pasternack said. “Ken Pomeroy comes up with the most comprehensive statistics in college basketball, and our ranking of 89 takes into account both offensive and defensive efficiency.
“That’s the highest that UCSB has been ranked in the history of the Ken Pom.”
And Ramsey has been at the point of the Gauchos’ man-to-man ball pressure, he added.
“That has really changed our team for the better,” Pasternack said. “It helps JaQuori to have a guy like Devearl taking on that challenge, which allows him to play off the ball some and not as much on the ball.
“Devearl has been a really, really important catalyst to our success.”
UC Davis, which showed its rust by shooting just 25% from three in Friday’s 98-69 loss at UC San Diego, found its shooting range the next day to make 45% (9-20) in a 78–71 victory.
“We did not want to ride (home) being 0–2 on that bus ride,” coach Jim Les said. “I thought the guys really played a high-level game and fought through the fatigue.”
The Aggies’ top three scorers all play in the backcourt: 5-11 sophomore Ezra Manjon, (17.8 points), 6-4 sophomore Elijah Pepper (12.2), and 6-foot junior Damion Squire (11.8). Manjon won Big West Freshman of the Year and Second-Team All-League honors last year.
“He’s one of the top guards in our league,” Pasternack said. “We went against one like that last week in T.J. Starks (of Cal State Northridge), and it was a struggle to guard him. He scored a lot, and we’re going to have another challenge this week.
“We’ll have to defend him with multiple guys and try different types of defense.”
The Aggies are better able to challenge UCSB’s front line of 6-9 Amadou Sow, 6-10 Miles Norris and 6-10 Robinson Idehen since San Jose State transfer Christian Anigwe became eligible to play last week. The 6-9 and 220-pound forward ranked third in the Mountain West Conference in blocked shots last year and also averaged 5.3 rebounds.
Sow has become a major force along UCSB’s front line, posting four-straight double-doubles the last two weekends. He leads the Big West in rebounding at 8.4 per game and has increased his field-goal percentage to an even 50 while averaging 11.4 points.
“Amadou really got off to a slow start, but he was hurting a bit,” Pasternack said. “I’m really pleased with his progress. He can still do a lot more and get a lot better, but I thought he had a really good week of practice and can hopefully keep this streak going.”