LONG BEACH – “Vengeance” was insufficient motivation for the UCSB basketball team on Thursday.
Now coach Joe Pasternack will try “survival” on for size.
The Gauchos, who sank to the bottom of the Big West Conference standings with their second defeat to Cal State Northridge in eight days, will travel to Long Beach State today in another return game. Tipoff is at 4 p.m.
“The season is down to 10 games,” Pasternack said. “I told our team, ‘Now it’s the month of February. We have to really turn up our urgency.’”
Only eight teams in the nine-team Big West qualify for the league’s post-season tournament, and UCSB is now mired in a four-way tie for last place.
The Beach, like the Matadors before them, thumped the Gauchos at the Thunderdome in recent weeks, 55-52.
“Of course, we’d like to get some revenge,” senior guard Max Heidegger said. “The first leg didn’t go as we’d planned. We still have another opportunity on Saturday and we’re just going to keep going.”
The Gauchos (13-8) have lost four of their last five games to drop to 2-4 in league play, putting them into a last-place tie with the Beach (7-15), UC Davis (8-14), and Cal Poly (5-15).
“We’ve got to keep going and keep fighting, and keep improving,” said Heidegger, whose 30-point game at CSUN improved his season average to a team-best 16.1 points per game. “I know this team has a lot of potential to do things and we’ve just got to put it all together with attitude, effort and defense.”
Heidegger has actually heated up during the Gaucho slump. He’s made 31-of-55 shots in his last three games (56.4%). He’s moved up to No. 16 on UCSB’s all-time scoring list, tying Conner Henry with 1,236 career points.
But it’s been of small consolation to the 6-foot-3 guard.
“Of course we want to win these games,” Heidegger said. “We know we’re better than this. We know we’re struggling.
“I think our attitude just has to be Long Beach. We just have to continue looking forward.”
Their weaknesses are easy to spot on a stat sheet: soft defense and careless offense.
UCSB’s field-goal percentage defense of 48.9% in league games ranks dead last in the Big West.
The Gauchos also average 12.7 turnovers per game. Sophomore forward Amadou Sow, their all-league forward from last season, has been particularly mistake-prone, turning the ball over 4.2 times per game in Big West play.
“Seven assists to 17 turnovers offensively, that’s a problem,” Pasternack said of Thursday’s 79-67 loss at Northridge. “And obviously our defense is a problem.”
UCSB’s defense has gotten worse as the season has progressed, allowing its last five opponents to shoot a combined 52.7%
“That’s really a struggle for us now, getting stops,” Pasternack said.
But he said he will stick with a man-to-man approach instead of resorting to a zone.
“At the beginning of this year we were struggling defensively and we didn’t change,” he said. “As we turn the page, January is over and we’re now in February.
“Now is when we have to really lock in and be at our best defensively. That’s what has to improve.”
Long Beach has been inconsistent, as well, although it wasn’t as unexpected as it has been with UCSB. The Beach turned over most of its roster from last year, returning only three letter-winners.
Its offense comes from the perimeter with 6-6 sophomore Chance Hunter (14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds per game), 6-5 sophomore Michael Carter III (11.9 points), and 6-1 junior Colin Slater (11.5 points). The Beach shoots 36.3% from three, with Hunter (43.4%) and Slater (40.6%) leading the way.
But Long Beach’s youth inside has led to its getting out-rebounded by 3.9 per game. Joshua Morgan, a 6-11 freshman, is its top post player with averages of 8.2 points and 6.1 rebounds.
The Beach has shown a fierce defense while shutting down the teams that were picked to finish 1-2 in the Big West: UC Irvine and UCSB. The Gauchos shot just 32% in their 55-52 defeat to Long Beach on Jan. 11.
“It’s not about Long Beach, it’s about us,” Pasternack insisted. “We have to grind it out here and keep getting better.
“When we first got here, we were hunting. Now we’ve become the hunted. We’re now back to square one where we have to hunt.”