After sparring against a pair of basketball lightweights, UCSB will finally enter the ring against an opponent from its own weight class.
Loyola Marymount, fresh off Friday’s 85-61 knockout of Big West Conference member Long Beach State, will visit the Thunderdome tonight for a 5 p.m. contest. The Gauchos will return the trip to Loyola on Saturday.
“We’re going to play a very physical Loyola Marymount team,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “They’ve been challenged and we haven’t. They played Minnesota twice and should’ve beaten them the last time.
“They’re ahead of us in the experience of playing big games. We still have to get the first one under our belt. It’ll be a great challenge for us to see what we have to improve on to get ready for conference. That’s what non-conference is all about.”
UCSB (2-0) ranks among the national team leaders in scoring margin (second at plus-54.0), scoring (fourth at 107.5 points per game), assists (first at 29.0), rebound margin (second at plus-33.0), and field-goal percentage (second at 61.8%). But those numbers are from the small sample size of two games played against two small opponents: Saint Katherine’s and Bethesda.
But the contests did serve their purpose, Pasternack said.
“Just to put a uniform on and go out with the lights on, I think it was good to get them that experience rather than their first game be Loyola Marymount,” he said.
LMU (2-2), which has played only Division 1 opponents, has out-rebounded its opponents by five per game. It lost the second of its two games at Minnesota on a last-second three-pointer, 67-64.
The Lions are led by 6-foot-5 and 232-pound senior Eli Scott, the only player in school history to record a triple-double. He’s also just the second LMU player to surpass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 250 assists in a career.
Joe Quintana, a 6-8 junior guard, tops LMU in scoring at 13.5 per game after having torched Long Beach for a career-high 20.
Dameane Douglas, a 6-7 forward who made the West Coast Conference’s All-Freshman Team last year, is at 12.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Mattias Markusson of Sweden, the biggest Lion at 7-foot-3 and 265 pounds, is scoring at a 9.8-point clip.
UCSB’s two returning all-leaguers, 6-9 junior Amadou Sow and 6-4 senior JaQuori McLaughlin, have each missed one game so far with muscle strains. Sow scored 20 points in the Gauchos’ season opener but missed the Bethesda game. McLauglin returned from his own ailment to sink a trio of three-pointers and add seven assists on Thursday against Bethesda.
Senior guard Devearl Ramsey is averaging 6.5 assists after two games.
“They’ve got experience,” Pasternack said of his two playmaking guards. “Any season, you need experience, depth and talent, but it’s really all about the chemistry.
“It’s not about your team on paper. How we come together as a team is what’s going to be big.”
Three transfers have had strong starts to their Gaucho careers: 6-4 sophomore Josh Pierre-Louis (14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds) 6-10 junior Miles Norris (12.5, 7.0), and 6-3 sophomore Ajare Sanni (9.5 points).
“The first game, you’re getting used to playing with the guys rather than going against each other in practices,” Norris said. “It’s only been two games, but I feel more comfortable already.”
He claims to be well qualified to play in an empty arena.
“I’m used to it, playing junior college last year,” said Norris, who won California Community College Player of the Year honors last year for the City College of San Francisco. “There weren’t too many people in the stands.
“But as a team, we’ve just got to be loud altogether — on the bench and on the court, as well. The loudest bench is going to have a bigger advantage winning the game.”