Big West Conference men’s basketball opened on Sunday to a familiar tune for UCSB, which has played second fiddle to UC Irvine the last few years.
The Anteaters overpowered the Gauchos inside while getting them to miss 22 of 25 shots from three-point distance in a 75-56 rout at Irvine’s Bren Center.
“We wanted to make it a paint game,” UCI center Brad Greene said.
He splattered UCSB’s post players with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds while making 6-of-8 shots. He also limited Amadou Sow, the Gauchos’ two-time All-Big West forward, to just two shots inside the three-point line and seven points.
“We didn’t play well on offense and couldn’t make a shot, we didn’t play well on defense, and we didn’t rebound the basketball,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “But kudos to them, that might’ve been the best they’ve played this year.
“They out-played us, out-coached us … out-everything-ed us.”
UCI (4-4) out-shot the Gauchos (4-2) 53.4% to 32.1% and out-rebounded them 39-29. It also out-scored UCSB inside the key, 46-22.
The Anteaters, 0-4 on the road this year with double-digit defeats at Pepperdine, San Diego State and USC, tuned up for Sunday’s league opener with last week’s 32-point home victory over the University of San Diego.
“Our team just came out wanting to play hard,” Greene said. “We all know what’s been said. We dropped a few games early, but I think this really shows who we are as competitors and what we want to do throughout conference.”
Collin Welp, the other bookend on the UCI front line, added 11 points and eight rebounds.
“They have an unbelievably experienced front line which out-played our front line,” Pasternack said. “We just didn’t execute our game plan. We didn’t do what we do.
“It reminded me of the Loyola Marymount game, for whatever reason. We’ll just have to go back to the drawing board and prepare. Hopefully, we’ll get a better performance tomorrow.”
The two teams will return to the Bren Center again today for a 4 p.m. contest. The Big West went to the new scheduling format to mitigate COVID-19 risks.
Seven of UCSB’s first eight shots were three-pointers, and they missed every one of them. Brandon Cyrus’ floater and Miles Norris’ free throw were the Gauchos’ only points during the first six-plus minutes.
Freshman Dawson Baker banked in the Anteaters’ first three-point attempt to give them a 5-3 lead which they never relinquished. A hook shot by another freshman, 7-foot and 300-pound Emmanuel Tshimanga, capped a 13-0 run that put UCI ahead 15-3 with 13:42 remaining in the first half.
“We’re really deep at the bigs position,” Greene said.
JaQuori McLaughlin answered with the Gauchos’ first three. Norris added another to go with a jumper by Ajare Sanni and a runner by Cyrus as UCSB rallied to within 21-15.
Sanni’s three off a cross-court pass from McLaughlin reduced the deficit to just five, 24-19. He was the only Gaucho to reach double-figure scoring, scoring 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting while also grabbing five rebounds.
But the Gauchos missed their last three three-pointers in the first half and all 13 in the second half.
“I felt we had some really open shots that we missed and we probably took some questionable shots, as well,” Pasternack said.
UCSB needed Josh Pierre-Louis and Sanni to score off steals to stay within 36-28 by the end of the first half. The Gauchos forced UCI’s young backcourt into nine turnovers during the first 20 minutes but only five more in the second half.
UCSB worked the ball inside to Sow for a pair of quick baskets to start the second half, reducing its deficit to 40-32 with 17:49 to go. But he didn’t take another shot the rest of the game. Sow led the Gauchos in rebounds with eight.
Welp’s long three triggered a 9-2 run which kept the Anteaters’ lead in double-digits for the rest of the game.
The defeat was UCSB’s fifth in a row at the Bren Center.
“Winning on the road isn’t easy no matter the situation,” Pasternack said. “Irvine, whether you play them at home or on the road, is a good team. They’re picked to win our league for a reason.”