ARLINGTON, Tex. — If JaQuori McLaughlin couldn’t bring great-grandma to Thanksgiving, he was going to bring some greatness to great-grandma.
Odessa Hannum drove an hour from Sherman, Tex. on Saturday to watch her great-grandson lead UCSB to a 72-68 basketball victory at the University of Texas Arlington.
“When family is here, I like to play hard,” UCSB’s junior guard said after hugging Odessa goodbye at College Park Center. “I really want to play like that every game, but also to just put on a show for her.”
McLaughlin did just that, scoring 22 points — his Gaucho high — while handing out three assists. His play is smoothing UCSB’s way as it reaches the mid-point of a four-game road swing. Saturday’s victory was its fifth in a row.
“JaQuori is running our offense and making great decisions,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “They’re a really tough team to play against — they changed defenses every possession.
“They played four different defenses against us and we still scored 72 points on the road.”
The five-game winning streak can be traced to McLaughlin’s gaudy numbers in the box scores. It’s been a high-five performance of 58.7% shooting overall (27-46) and 41.2% from three-point distance (7-17). He’s averaged 17.2 points and 4.6 assists during the streak.
In the three games before that — all defeats — McLaughlin shot just 25% (6-24) overall and 9% from three (1-11).
“All summer long, he was as good a player as we had,” Pasternack said. “Every single day he brought it at practice.
“In the first three or four games he didn’t play well and everybody panicked. It was like, ‘What happened? What happened?’
“Like I told him, ‘It’s the law of averages … Because you are in the process every single day, it’s all going to fall together.’”
McLaughlin has improved his season scoring average to 13.7 points on 49.4% shooting. He’s also averaging 4.1 assists and just 1.4 turnovers.
“I had a tough start to the season but just stayed to the grind and stayed true to it,” he said. “I knew I was going to be able to play the way I am right now.”
His command of the offense also shows up at the free-throw line. He drew seven fouls on Saturday and shot 10 free throws, making nine. He’s shooting 85% from the line this season.
“Drawn fouls — that’s a new stat on the sheet that I haven’t seen before,” Pasternack said. “It’s a great stat, and it’s important.”
But the number that McLaughlin liked best on Saturday was Texas Arlington’s 41.4% shooting. UCSB held the Mavericks to just 38.2% in the second half, enabling the Gauchos to pull away from a 29-29 deadlock. He had a game-high three steals.
“Winning on the road is all about rebounding and free throws and defense,” he said. “I thought we were really locked in.
“We had a couple of slipups, but we locked back in on the defensive end. And when they caught us, we knocked down our free throws.”
McLaughlin, known as JRoq by his teammates, knocked down two of them with 18.5 seconds left and enable the Gauchos to breathe easier with a five-point lead. UCSB made seven in a row in the last four minutes.
“I think that shows our experience,” he said, “and guys maturing and just staying together.”
And the most senior citizen in the building was giving thanks to that.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.