Coach Joe Pasternack believes his UCSB basketball team needs to catch a lot of basketballs tonight if it’s to catch up to the school’s record for longest winning streak.
The Gauchos will seek their 11th consecutive victory when they tip off against Cal State Bakersfield, the nation’s ninth-leading rebounding team, at 8 p.m. at the Thunderdome. Although spectators won’t be allowed, the game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
“They’re the most physical team we will have played this year,” Pasternack said. “They rebound from all five positions.
“Coach (Rod) Barnes is a great coach — he’s been voted as a national coach of the year (CollegeInsider.com’s 2017 Hugh Durham Mid-Major Coach of the Year Award). He has a very deep team and one of the oldest teams in college basketball, so we have our hands full.”
UCSB (14-3, 8-2 Big West Conference) leads UC Irvine (11-7, 7-3) by one game in the league standings, with Bakersfield (14-7, 8-4) close behind in third. The Gauchos would tie the school record for consecutive victories by winning tonight. The mark was set by the 1988-89 team when it won its first 11 games.
The Gauchos haven’t lost since UC Irvine swept them in a conference-opening double-header in Orange County on Dec. 27 and 28. UCSB has played on the road for eight of its next 10 conference games but won them all.
“I think we’ve gotten better since Dec. 28, but I don’t think we are where we need to be,” Pasternack said. “You’re all preparing to be at your best in March. We have three weeks left in the regular season, and there aren’t many practices in college basketball left for you this time of year.”
Bakersfield, which helped knock defending Big West champion Irvine out of first place with a 62-57 victory at UCI on Feb. 6, ranks fifth in the nation in offensive rebounds per game (14.1) and eighth in rebound margin (plus-9.4). The Roadrunners rebound two of their own five misses, on average, and have gotten 10 or more offensive rebounds in 18 of their 21 games.
Pasternack looked at those statistics and said, “I think we’re in dire straits.”
“We need all five guys plus my coaching staff to go out there and rebound to compete with them,” he added.
Ronne Readus, a 6-foot-9 and 240-pound junior, ranks second in the Big West in offensive rebounding while Justin McCall, a 6-6 senior, is fifth.
Taze Moore, a 6-5 senior, leads Bakersfield’s balanced scoring attack with an 11.5-point average on shooting of 50% (16-for-32) from three-point range. Justin Elder-Davis, a 6-4 and 220-pound senior, is at just under 10 points a game and 39.0% from three. Both guards average more than four rebounds a game.
Rebounding an opponent’s miss, however, has been a Gaucho strength this season. They lead the Big West in defensive rebound percentage (77.3%) while Amadou Sow, their 6-9 junior center, leads in individual rebound average (7.75 per game).
Sow joined UCSB’s 1,000-point club during last week’s trip to Hawaii and is averaging 11.6 per game this season. He’s been even more impactful during the Gauchos’ winning streak, averaging 12.5 points on 59.5% shooting and 8.7 rebounds in the last 10 games.
But UCSB also needed his backup, Robinson Idehen, to gut out an ankle injury at Hawaii last week to keep the winning streak alive. The 6-10 senior got five rebounds, five points, and two blocked shots in 10 minutes off the bench in a 59-50 victory.
He’ll be vital in keeping the Roadrunners off the offensive backboards tonight, as well as on Saturday when the two teams conclude their double-header with a 7 p.m. game.
“Robinson was probably the most unsung player last week,” Pasternack said. “We don’t win that first game without his defense and rebounding, and we didn’t even think he was going to play after spraining his ankle in practice that Monday. We thought he’d be out for a couple of weeks.
“But Jackson (Smidt, UCSB’s trainer) did an amazing job of getting Robinson ready to play and be a huge part of our win. He’s the best trainer I’ve ever been around — a seven-days-a-week guy. Robinson is fine now.”
The Gauchos do match Bakersfield’s experience in the backcourt with three senior starters: 6-4 JaQuori McLaughlin, 6-foot Devearl Ramsey, and 6-5 Brandon Cyrus.
McLaughlin ranks third in the Big West in scoring (16.6 per game) and first in assists (5.1), which also ranks 49th nationally. He’s just six points away from joining Sow in UCSB’s 1,000-point club and the third to get 1,000 points and at least 300 assists. Only Carrick DeHart (1986-90) and Conner Henry (1982-86) have achieved that double.
McLaughlin’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.73 ranks 30th nationally while Ramsey’s 4.43 ranks fifth. UCSB is seventh as a team at 1.59. The Gauchos are also among the national leaders in assists per game (13th at 17.3), field-goal percentage (16th at 49.7%), and scoring (37th at 79.1 points).
Ramsey has made 27 of his last 28 free throws which included 8-for-8 in Saturday’s overtime to beat Hawaii. His 89.7% accuracy from the foul line ranks second in the Big West while McLaughlin is fourth at 88.2%.
Those two also rank among the league leaders in steals — Ramsey at fourth (1.76 per game) and McLaughlin at sixth (1.63).
“Devearl is one of our most important players,” Pasternack said. “We had no chance at Hawaii without his unbelievable ball pressure as well as his knocking down all those free throws and three-pointers.”
Pasternack was disappointed that his team put itself in the position of needing some last-minute heroics.
“We had a 15-point lead and we stopped doing what we do,” he said. “I don’t care if we’re home or on the road. If we’re not following our rules and taking care of the ball, and not defending, we’ll lose.
“The same thing happened in the Saturday game at UC Davis (an 89-86 overtime win). We’ve got to learn from that and play a full 40 minutes. That’s what we’re focused on now.”