If UCSB is to go the distance in the Big West Conference basketball race, it will have to deal tonight with one of the nation’s best teams from distance.
UC Davis, which ranks 16th nationally with a three-point percentage of .381, will play host to the streaking Gauchos tonight at 7 p.m.
“That’s the No. 1 thing they do offensively,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “They also get you to turn it over more than any other team in our league, so we’re going to have to do a really great job of taking care of the basketball.”
The Gauchos (16-8, 5-4 Big West) are coming off their third-straight win, 64-61, over first-place UC Irvine. They’ve won four of their last five games to move within a half-game of second-place Hawaii in the league race.
The Aggies (10-15, 4-5) have won two of their last three, which includes an 87-81 win at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. Their only loss in that span was at Irvine, 83-72.
“It’s good our guys have really bought in and are excited and they believe in what we do,” Pasternack said. “But as we’ve said before, it’s won and done. We have to be really locked in because UC Davis is the only thing that matters right now.
“The Irvine game counts as just one win, not two. Davis presents a tough matchup for us. They’re well-coached and their three-point shooting is really dangerous.”
Stefan Gonzales, a 6-foot-2 senior guard who averages 10.3 points per game, ranks third in the nation with a three-point percentage of .479. Two other guards – senior Joe Mooney (13.2 points) and freshman Ezra Manion (12.2 points) are also big three-point threats.
The Gauchos held Irvine to just 28.6% shooting from three and 42.4% overall in Saturday’s win.
“I think that’s our identity, just showing teams that we can play defense,” junior guard JaQuori McLaughlin said. “We’ve been working on that as a team and have been doing a great job of just focusing on that every single day in practice and in the games.”
Max Heidegger, a 6-3 senior who averages a team-best 15.2 points per game, has emerged as one of the team’s stoppers.
“That’s something we’ve really not talked about at all, but he held Hawaii’s Jeff Stansberry – a first-team, all-league-type player – to nine points and six points in our two games,” Pasternack said. “He did an amazing job on Irvine’s Evan Leonard, as well.
“Max scored 30 points at Northridge and came within one rebound of a triple-double at Long Beach, but his defense and rebounding are making him a complete player. His improvement in those areas has been huge for our team.”
Davis’ soft spot is under the basket. The Aggies are getting out-rebounded by 3.2 boards per game and their field-goal percentage defense of .454 ranks eighth out of the nine Big West teams. The Gauchos’ team field-goal percentage of .470 leads the Big West and ranks 29th nationally.
Davis will have to deal with a red-hot Amadou Sow. The Gauchos’ 6-9 sophomore, who made 20 of 28 shots last week, leads the conference and ranks 34th nationally with his field goal percentage of .573. He also leads the league in rebound average (7.3) and is tied for third in scoring average (15.0).
“Amadous is just getting better and better, and you want your guys to improve this time of year,” Pasternack said. “He just had a monster week and hopefully he can build on that.”