BIG WEST MEN’S BASKETBALL: Taking It To the Green
UCSB’s Devearl Ramsey took a literal approach to opening night on Wednesday, looking for openings all night to start Big West Conference play.
He drove the basketball — and his Gauchos — right at Cal Poly in a 65-56 victory before the biggest crowd of the season at the Thunderdome.
“I feel it’s my job to keep the energy high,” said Ramsey, a sophomore who scored a team-high 19 points with three assists. “Whether that’s scoring or getting an easy possession for someone else, I’ve just got to make sure our energy is high, and it just so happened that my shot was a little open today.”
The victory improved UCSB’s record to 12-3 — its best start since it went 15-1 to open the 1988-89 season. The Gauchos are also 8-0 at the Thunderdome, where the crowd of 4,816 helped them crank up the intensity.
“It definitely was a good experience, playing in front of that crowd,” said JaQuori McLaughlin, another sophomore transfer. “The Cal Poly rivalry game, my first time experiencing that — for a lot of the guys on our team it was the first time — so it was great to be able to play in front of them.”
UCSB’s two-headed monster at point guard combined for 35 points, with McLaughlin adding 16 to Ramsey’s total. He made four of his eight three-point attempts.
McLaughlin launched in his first three bombs during the first eight minutes to put the Gauchos ahead 20-10.
Robinson Idehen brought the large crowd alive with a monster dunk off Max Heidegger’s pass, and he added a hook shot to keep the margin at 10, 26-16.
“I was amped up,” said Idehen, a 6-foot-10 sophomore transfer who, like Ramsey and McLaughlin, was playing his first Big West game. “Energy is something we need to get going with this team, so I just do everything I can to provide that.”
But the Gaucho lead kept topping out at 10.
The Mustangs (4-10) whittled it to a single point, 28-27, with an eight-point spree which included back-to-back threes by Donovan Fields and Kuba Niziol. Fields finished with 19 points and eight assists.
“Coach always talks about the 10 four-minute wars,” Ramsey said. “We knew we weren’t just going to knock them out and get them out of the game early.
“We just had to keep our foot on the gas.”
The spring to UCSB’s step helped it dominate the backboards. The Gauchos out-rebounded Cal Poly 45-35 and reclaimed 15 of their own misses.
Freshman Sékou Touré got a big one with a put-back after a missed free throw, and McLaughlin followed with a step-back three to cap a seven-point run that gave UCSB a 35-27 lead at halftime.
Ramsey hit a runner and a three to start the second half, improving the Gauchos’ margin to 40-31.
But the Mustangs banked in a pair of threes, including an improbable one near the right corner by Marcellus Garrick, while rallying to within 43-41 with 14 minutes remaining.
They finally caught UCSB 46-all on a three by Fields with 7:46 left. But the Gaucho defense dug in at that point, holding Cal Poly to 4-for-17 shooting the rest of the way.
UCSB narrowly out-shot the Mustangs 40 percent to 37.7 (33.3 to 28 percent from three).
“I think it’s always been about our defense,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “To hold them to 37 percent from the field was a key to the game for us.
“We also out-rebounded them 45-35, with 15 offensive rebounds … But when our defense is clicking, we can push the ball and get easy baskets. That’s when we’re at our best.”
Fields, who torched UCSB for 22 points in a one-point win in last year’s Big West opener in San Luis Obispo, missed his last seven shots on Wednesday after making seven of his first 14.
The Gauchos were shooting only 3-for-14 in the second half when Ramsey snapped them to life by hooking in a runner. They made 9-for-19 the rest of the way.
Heidegger followed with a scoring drive of his own along the baseline, finishing it with a reverse layup that hung on the rim momentarily before dropping in. It was one of only two shots that the All-Big West guard attempted in his 15-minute return from a leg strain.
UCSB got its lead to 10 for the third time with a 13-3 run that was capped by Ar’Mond Davis’ three and a steal by McLaughlin which he got back from Ramsey for a fast-break dunk and a 59-49 lead.
Davis finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Idehen got a game-high eight rebounds while filling in for starter Amadou Sow, who was limited by foul trouble. Ami Lakoju also made good use of his seven minutes at center with five rebounds and two blocked shots.
“We’ve got a lot of players at all positions who can play exactly at the same level,” Idehen said. “It’s really good when somebody can have your back.”
The Gauchos finally got their margin past 10 points on a fast-break layup by Davis off Heidegger’s lob. Ramsey then applied the dagger with a mad stab through a cluster of Mustangs for a layup and 65-51 lead with 1:25 to go.