A slow-starting but fast-finishing UCSB basketball team will get a late start tonight when it plays host to UC Davis.
Tipoff for the contest, which will be televised by ESPNU, is set for 9 p.m.
The Gauchos (17-5, 6-2 Big West Conference) had to rally from an 11-0 deficit to beat Cal State Northridge on Wednesday, 70-64. They also trailed 10-0 at UC Davis on Jan. 17 before pulling out a 69-58, comeback victory.
“To our guys’ credits, they’re really high-character individuals and competitors who don’t like to lose,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “I think you saw that in the Hawaii game and you saw it after the first four minutes of this (CSUN) game, down 11-0.
“We don’t have selfish guys on our team. They want to win so badly and compete.”
The Gauchos, who are alone in second place in the Big West standings behind 8-1 UC Irvine, have won 23 of their last 26 games at the Thunderdome.
But Davis (7-14, 3-4), which returns most of the roster from last year’s Big West regular-season championship team, handed them one of those defeats last year.
The Aggies have also gotten hot of late, with road wins at UC Riverside last Saturday and at Cal Poly on Thursday. Tonight’s game is the last stop of their four-game road trip.
“Right now, they’re the conference champion,” Pasternack said. “As of right now, and they have the reigning Player of the Year in the league in T.J. Shorts … So it’s going to be a great challenge.
“Last time we played them at home last year, they beat us really bad. They have everybody back, they’re a great team, they’re very well-coached, and it’ll be a battle.”
Aggies coach Jim Les shook things up to good effect two games ago by bringing his three senior stars — Shorts, guard Siler Schneider, and forward Garrison Goode — off the bench.
Shorts, a 5-foot-9 point guard who scores 14.8 points per game with 4.2 assists, surpassed those averages off the bench on Thursday by getting 18 points and seven assists in a 63-53 win at Cal Poly.
Junior guard Joe Mooney, the Aggies’ leading three-point shooter, is coming off a 17-point performance at Cal Poly. He’s averaged 13 points since becoming a starter. UC Davis starts four guards along with 6-11 junior center Matt Neufeld.
The Gauchos do rank sixth nationally in three-point defense, allowing just 27.7 percent. Northridge made just 1-of-21 threes against them on Thursday.
UCSB is also 13th in rebound margin (plus 7.6 per game), with 6-9 Amadou Sow pulling down a team-best 6.6 per game. He’s already at No. 6 on the Gauchos’ all-time, single-season list for a freshman with 145 rebounds and with at least nine games remaining.
Junior guard Max Heidegger, meanwhile, has made a personal rebound from a concussion that sidelined him for nine games. He reached the 20-point mark for the second time in as many games on Thursday, scoring a season-high 26 while making 4-of-8 from three-point range.
He’s shot 7-for-13 from three in his last two games after making just 8-of-50 since his returning.
“It was just going to take some time,” Pasternack said. “When you take three months off and do nothing, you’re just not going to show up and be who you were last year.
“But he’s honored the process extremely well and done an amazing job. He’s just getting back to who he is. All credit to him. What he’s been through is unbelievable, and I’m just so happy and proud of him.”
Heidegger also has 35 assists with just eight turnovers. He’s quick to credit his teammates for the biggest assist.
“It’s tough at times, to keep having the same confidence that you do when you’re making shots,” he said. “But Coach P and my teammates kept telling me ‘Keep shooting! Keep shooting! Keep doing what you do, honor the process, and the shots will come.’
“That was kind of evident the last two games. I’m just trying to carry that on going forward.”