Loyola Marymount’s basketball coach was the one who made the call to arrange the second game of this week’s rare basketball doubleheader against UCSB.
The Lions wanted it more on the court, as well, in the eyes of Gaucho coach Joe Pasternack.
They shot holes in UCSB’s defense, hitting 52.8% overall and 47.8% from three, to earn a split in the series, 81-76, on Saturday at Gersten Pavilion.
“When they called and said they wanted to play us twice, we said, ‘Yeah, it’ll be great for us,’” Pasternack said. “But the mental to the physical is four to one, and their mental was better than ours today.
“They were mentally tougher and wanted it more, and that can happen when you play the same team in the same week, back-to-back, like that.”
JaQuori McLaughlin rallied UCSB by scoring 11 of his team-high 21 points in the last four-plus minutes. He shot 6-for-9 overall and 3-for-6 three.
But the Lions, who made just 1-of-14 three-pointers in Monday’s loss at the Thunderdome, held on by sinking 11-of-23 of their long shots on Saturday.
“They didn’t run better offense, we just didn’t defend,” Pasternack said. “Credit to them, their coach does a really good job with them and they have good players. But we didn’t compete defensively at all, and so we didn’t deserve to win.”
UCSB (3-1) shot well as a team, nearly matching Loyola by making 11-for-24 from three and converting 48.1% of its shots overall. Ajare Sanni came off the bench to hit 3-of-8 from three and score 18 points.
“We made some execution mistakes, but I thought we got good shots tonight,” Pasternack said. “That’s not the problem. Now we have to be able to defend and be tougher mentally.”
The Lions (3-3) set the tone on Saturday by making their first four shots for an 8-2 lead after just 2½ minutes.
McLaughlin brought the Gauchos back, assisting consecutive baskets by Miles Norris and Robinson Idehen. He then scored his team’s next four points to draw them even at 10-all. He finished with four assists and no turnovers.
But LMU didn’t cool off, making a pair of threes before a runner by forward Dameane Douglas put them ahead 20-12. Douglas led all scorers with 23 points.
The Gauchos shot back into the game with five threes in the next five minutes, with Sanni and Destin Barnes making two apiece. A jump hook by Idehen capped a 10-0 run that tied the game at 33-all with 3:42 to go in the half.
Devearl Ramsey added one more bonus bomb before the period was over. A floater by Jalin Anderson, however, pushed the Lion’ lead up to 42-38 by halftime.
Sanni scored seven straight points, punctuated by a three-point play off Barnes’ pass, to give the Gauchos their first lead, 51-50, with 12:21 left. UCSB’s bench contributed 33 points.
The Lions responded with back-to-back threes by Ivan Alipiev and Douglas.
“Our team got a great lesson that they’re not just going to outscore people,” Pasternack said. “It felt like they scored every single time, and it felt like we didn’t defend.
“We weren’t tough enough and so we got humbled today.”
The Gauchos’ last lead of 58-56 came when Sanni rattled in a corner three off a kick-out pass from McLaughlin with just under nine minutes left.
But guard Joe Quintana shot LMU right back ahead with a trio of threes down the stretch. He made 5-of-8 in the game for 22 points.
McLaughlin matched him with three of his own in the last four minutes.
“JaQuori made some good plays,” Pasternack said. “He’s a senior, and he played better than he did at home on Monday. Unfortunately, we just weren’t a defense- and rebound-minded team today, and it showed.”
The Gauchos also got an unconventional three-point play. The Lions’ Keli Leaupepe was called for an intentional flop while Amadou Sow scored off a spin move. McLaughlin made the technical-foul free throw to pull UCSB to within 72-70 with 1:13 remaining.
But Quintana’s last three and 5-for-6 free-throw shooting by his teammates during the final 28 seconds kept the Gauchos at bay.
Loyola held Sow, UCSB’s two-time All-Big West Conference forward, to just 3-for-11 shooting and nine points. He also committed five of the Gauchos’ 11 turnovers.
“They really did a good job on Amadou and he did not have a good week,” Pasternack said.
The Lions out-rebounded UCSB 30-26, with Norris and Sow getting six apiece for the Gauchos. Norris also had three steals.
UCSB will head south again on Saturday at 3 p.m. to play Pepperdine, another West Coast Conference school. The Waves have already defeated defending Big West champion UC Irvine as well as California, and they took UCLA to three overtimes before losing at Pauley Pavilion.
“After Gonzaga and San Diego State, Pepperdine is the next-best team in the West,” Pasternack said. “It’ll be a heck of a challenge for us.
“But it’s not about them, it’s about us. Can we defend and rebound? Whether or not we’re successful this year will come down to that.”