SAN LUIS OBISPO — Devearl Ramsey wouldn’t crack, even as one of his UCSB teammates made funny faces behind the television camera during a post-game interview.
“He got me a little bit,” Ramsey said of fellow Gaucho Robinson Idehen, “but I didn’t smile.”
UCSB had its game-face on throughout Wednesday’s Big West Conference basketball opener at Cal Poly, leading from opening tip to final buzzer to claim its sixth-straight victory, 63-45.
The Gaucho defense, like Ramsey’s grin, never cracked, with the Mustangs shooting just 28.3%. Cal Poly’s percentage, as well as its final point total, were the lowest allowed by UCSB all season.
“It was our best defensive effort of the year,” coach Joe Pasternack said.
“This is a very mature team,” he added. “We’ve been through the wars. We’re now 5-3 on the road.
“We’ve played tough, tight road games, and I thought that prepared us for tonight.”
The Gauchos (12-4), who return home on Saturday for a 7 p.m. game against Long Beach State, have now won 11 of their last 12 games.
“I was excited for this game — I couldn’t wait,” said Idehen, who fortified UCSB’s defense with a career-high four blocked shots. “As coach said in the locker room, ‘We’re 0-0 now … Every team has hopes, so we’ve just got to come and put it on them.’”
Ramsey hounded the Mustangs (3-12) all night, matching his career-high with four steals. UCSB’s nine team steals were its season-high.
“We try to help each other out in our gap defense, and that’s where we get our steals,” Ramsey said. “We’re getting better at it every day.
“We’ve got to have that defensive identity. Offense will come and go — sometimes you’re going to miss shots and can’t control the ball going in — but you can control how hard you play on defense and the effort you give.”
The ball went into UCSB’s basket during the first half to the tune of 60.9%. The Gauchos settled for 51.1% for the night. JaQuori McLaughlin led them in scoring for the fourth time in the last five games by reaching his season average of 15 points.
He got the Gauchos off to a fast start, making a three-pointer, a two-pointer, and two foul shots in the first seven minutes. He also assisted Jay Nagle’s three as UCSB doubled Cal Poly’s score, 16-8.
“He’s shooting the ball terrific right now — the best of his career,” Pasternack said, noting McLaughlin’s 3-for-4 performance from the three-point line. “To go 7-of-14 (from three as a team), I thought we did a great job to adjusting to their changing defenses.
“They played a 1-3-1 — and then when the ball went to the corner, they went to a man-and-man. I’ve never seen it before.”
Freshman Colby Rogers, the Mustangs’ leading scorer with 16 points, beat the shot clock with a three. Matt Freeman did the same on the other end, however, and added another three less than two minutes later to keep the lead at eight, 24-16.
Brandon Cyrus’ fast-break layup off McLaughlin’s pass got the margin into double-digits.
The Gauchos led by as many as 12 points, 30-18, on Ramsey’s running bank shot. The margin dwindled to eight by halftime, 36-28, with Cal Poly out-rebounding UCSB by the break, 16-13.
“They got seven offensive rebounds in the first half and really came at us,” Pasternack said. “They threw the first punch in the rebounding war, but I thought our guys settled down. We blocked their guards out really well.”
Ramsey got a career-high eight rebounds from his point-guard position — twice as many as the next Gaucho.
“That was huge,” Pasternack said. “Rebounds are our identity. We have to continue that, defending and rebounding at that level — especially on the road in conference.”
UCSB, which is 11-2 when it out-rebounds its opponent, edged the Mustangs on the boards by game’s end, 31-29.
Idehen, playing 13½ minutes in the first half with Amadou Sow in foul trouble, stifled Cal Poly’s offense with three of his four blocks.
“Every practice, we work like crazy on defense,” Idehen said. “That’s one thing we want to be known for as a team.
“When everybody plays Santa Barbara, we want to be known for our defense.”
Sow made up for lost time to start the second half, scoring back-to-back hook shots during the first two minutes. He scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.
“Amadou in the second half was terrific,” Pasternack said.
McLaughlin contributed a two-minute drill of his own with a pair of threes and an assist on Ramsey’s cut to the basket to expand UCSB’s lead to 49-34.
When McLaughlin finally missed, Cyrus was on the spot for a spectacular follow dunk.
The game then entered a four-minute cold spell with neither team able to score, but Sow thawed things out with a three from the top.
“He was killing in the second half,” Idehen said. “He wanted that one. It was wide open, so why not?”
Sow’s two foul shots then put the game on ice at 59-40 with 4:25 to go.
“It’s a great start,” Idehen said.