UCSB had already checked into its Indianapolis hotel on Sunday for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament when it checked out the bracket by tuning in the CBS Selection Show.
The Gauchos had won the Big West Conference Tournament less than 16 hours earlier in Las Vegas when they learned that they had gotten a No. 12 seed and would play No. 5 Creighton in Saturday’s opening round. Game time and arena location were not yet announced.
“We flew out at 8 a.m. this morning and watched the show as a team in our hotel meeting room,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “We were pretty excited — we got called pretty quickly.”
The Gauchos (22-4) were just the sixth team to go up on the board when they were slotted against Creighton (20-8) in their West Regional opener. The Bluejays earned an at-large bid to the tournament, having finished second to Villanova during the Big East regular season and losing to Georgetown in the league’s tournament final.
“Creighton is very, very strong,” Pasternack said. “They’ve got an NBA point guard in (Marcus) Zegarowski and they’re a very, very good offensive team.
“It’ll obviously be a big challenge, but it’ll be great for our guys to go against a Big East team.”
The Gauchos have won 18 of their last 19 games. They captured the Big West Tournament championship for only the fourth time in school history when they defeated defending champion UC Irvine 79-63 on Saturday night.
“You want to be at your best in March, and I think our team has been improving and improving,” Pasternack said. “I think we even got better at the end of (Saturday) night’s game.”
UCSB is one win away from tying the school record for most wins in a season, first set during the 23-9 season of 2008 and matched when Pasternack’s first Gaucho team went 23-9 in 2018. He’s guided UCSB to four-straight 20-win seasons for the first time in school history.
“It feels great, all the work we put in,” senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin said after winning the Big West Player of the Year and Tournament MVP honors. “We started (practices) on tennis courts this year. We were having Zooms as a team. We weren’t able to meet in person.
“We talked about the goals that we had. We accomplished two of them, and we’ve got one more to go.”
That final goal is simply to advance, Pasternack said. A victory on Saturday would put UCSB into Monday’s second round against the winner of the game between No. 4 seed Virginia and 13th-seeded Ohio.
“It feels great to win with these guys, especially guys like JaQuori and Brandon Cyrus and pretty much the whole team,” junior Amadou Sow said after winning Big West All-Tournament honors. “They were great leaders every day. It’s something I won’t ever be able to forget.”
The NCAA Tournament berth is UCSB’s first in a decade and sixth overall.
The No. 12 seeding is its highest in the NCAA Tournament since it won an at-large berth in 1990 and got a No. 9 seed. The Gauchos defeated No. 8 Houston 70-66 in their first-round game at the Southeast Regional in Knoxville, Tenn. and threw a scare into No. 1 seed Michigan State in the second round before losing 62-58.
The Gauchos’ only other at-large berth in the Division 1 Tournament came when it was a No. 10 seed in 1988. They lost to No. 7 Maryland 92-82 in a first-round game in Cincinnati.
UCSB automatically qualified four other times as the Big West Tournament champion. The Gauchos were a No. 14 seed in 2002 when they lost to No. 3 Arizona 86-81, a No. 15 seed in 2010 when they lost to No. 2 Ohio State 68-51, and a No. 15 again in 2011 when they were defeated by No. 2 Florida 79-51.
“There’s nothing like the NCAA Tournament,” Pasternack said. “It’s the best of all sports, I think.
“I’ve been there a lot. To have all these guys go for the first time and experience March Madness, it’s something they’re going to have for the rest of their lives. They’ve made history for our university.
“I’m glad they were able to represent them in a great way.”