Cal State Bakersfield has been at its basketball-best on Saturday nights, but UCSB has been good all through 2021.
Miles Norris scored a career-high 27 points to give the Gauchos a school-record 12th consecutive victory with Saturday’s 63-44 victory at the Thunderdome.
Coach Joe Pasternack decided to address the record after hearing his players talk about it in the post-game locker room.
“All summer long we were having Zooms, we were on the tennis court, we were having meetings on preparing for this year, and we thought this team could be very special,” he said. “But not once did we come up with, ‘We want to win this many games in a row.’
“We have so many bigger things we want to accomplish. I think this team can be very special. I just drew a mountain on the board. Right now, we’re just climbing the mountain, and we’re like halfway to the top. We still have so many things we have to do as a program, as a team.”
UCSB (16-3, 10-2 Big West Conference) took a big step toward a regular-season championship, taking a two-game lead over UC Irvine with just two weekend double-headers remaining in the regular season. The second-place Anteaters (12-8, 8-4) lost 67-64 at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.
The Gauchos’ winning streak breaks the school record set by the 1988-89 team when it started the season at 11-0. They also rewrote the school record with their 10th-straight league win.
UCSB has gone 12-0 since losing a pair of games to start league play at defending champion UC Irvine to end the 2020 calendar year.
Bakersfield (14-9, 8-6) had won six of its seven Saturday games coming into the contest. The Gauchos, however, held the Roadrunners to just 37% shooting and out-rebounded them 28-26. The 44 points were the fewest that UCSB has allowed all season.
“I thought tonight, our guys did a really great job holding this team to 37% from the field,” Pasternack said. “But more importantly, all week, for five days straight since last Monday, all we talked about was winning the rebounding war.
“I mean, we have signs posted which say, ‘Hit-and-git, hit-and-git.’ And our guys did an amazing job for two nights in a row in out-rebounding this team — they’re at the top in the country in rebounding.”
Devearl Ramsey got UCSB off to a good start, making a pair of three-pointers during the first two minutes. He took only two more shots all game. His backcourt mate JaQuori McLaughlin, the Big West’s third-leading scorers with a 16.8-point average, took only two shots all game.
They focused more on setting up their teammates. Ramsey had eight assists and six rebounds while McLaughlin assisted seven baskets while getting five rebounds. All 20 of UCSB’s baskets came after an assist.
“I’ve never been part of a team that has such unselfishness,” Pasternack said. “When your best player is so unselfish, and your starting backcourt has 15 assists to just five turnovers — Devearl is third in the country and maybe now moved up to second in assist-to-turnover ratio — that’s when you know you have a special, special team and can do special things.”
Norris was the main beneficiary, making 9-of-11 baskets including 4-of-5 from three-point range. The 27 points were the most by any Gaucho this season.
His first three got the Gaucho lead up to 14-2 after less than five minutes.
Amadou Sow scored twice inside the arc, but Norris and Ajare Sanni added two more threes to expand the lead to 27-12 after 13½ minutes.
Bakersfield got as close as 27-16 before Norris turned the game into a slam-fest. He scored four straight baskets during a three-plus-minute span, dunking off a pair of fast-break passes by Ramsey.
Three of those field goals were set up by steals — the first by McLaughlin, the next by Ramsey, and the final one by Brandon Cyrus.
The Gauchos made six steals in the first half. McLaughlin scored his only points on two free throws with 1:20 left in the period.
UCSB took a 39-21 lead into halftime by out-shooting the Roadrunners 54.5% to 36.4% and out-rebounding them 14-12.
By the time Norris hit a three to start the second half, he had half of the Gauchos’ points in a 42-23 runaway.
“He had a chip on his shoulder, and I thought he played really, really well,” Pasternack said. “I actually told him right before the game that, ‘You need to play the way you did against Irvine on that Saturday.’ And he did an amazing job.
“Defensively, he did a terrific job — I was proud of him — on Justin Elder-Davis. He’s a really, really good player.”
UCSB pulled ahead by 20, 45-25, on a three by Sanni.
The Gauchos got out of control with three charging violations in a three-minute span. The Roadrunners took advantage with a 7-0 run. A corner three by Elder-Davis drew Bakersfield to within 45-32 with 13:26 still remaining.
But a jumper by Cyrus and a dunk by Sow off McLaughlin’s lob got the Gauchos rolling again.
UCSB got three more threes by Norris, Jay Nagle and Josh Pierre-Louis to finish off Roadrunners.
Next up is a Friday-Saturday double-header at UC Riverside, which holds down third place in the Big West at 5-3.