UCSB is seeding the clouds for a thunderous welcome to the UC Davis basketball team tonight.
The Gauchos are putting three fan promotions in play in hopes of replicating the season-high turnout that helped them beat first-place UC Irvine at the Thunderdome on Feb. 8.
“We need to get it sold out,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “When we played Irvine, the energy in the Thunderdome was contagious, and it really helped our team.
“We really need the community to come out and support us.”
The promotions include 25 Amazon gift cards worth $100 apiece that will be thrown out during the second half of tonight’s 7 o’clock game. Goleta’s On the Alley is supplying T-shirts to the first 500 students who come through the turnstiles.
A student will also be picked to attempt a half-court shot at halftime, with a Chevy Cruze automobile from Bunnin Chevrolet at stake.
Second place in the Big West Conference will be on the line during the game. Davis (13-15, 7-5 league) currently holds the spot, having won its last four games in a row. They include a 77-62 romp at Cal Poly on Thursday and an 84-75 win over the Gauchos just nine days ago in Davis.
That was the only defeat for UCSB (17-9, 6-5) in its last five games. The Gauchos, who are in a three-way tie for third place with Hawaii and Cal State Northridge, are coming off a 75-66 win at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday.
“It’s a quick turnaround,” Pasternack said. “I think Davis is one of the top-two teams in our league. They’ve showed it.
“But for us, it’s just the next game on the schedule.”
The Thunderdome hasn’t lived up to its nickname for most of this season. UCSB’s average attendance of 1,393 is the lowest since it drew just 1,350 per game during the 11-18 season of 2004-05. The Gauchos have averaged less than 2,000 only twice since then, and both were losing seasons (11-20 in 2012-13 and 6-22 in 2016-17).
But UCSB, which drew a season-high 3,187 fans for its Irvine game, still has three home games remaining to boost its average attendance. The regular season finale of March 7 is its Blue-Green Rivalry game against Cal Poly, which often attracts the largest crowd of the season.
The Gauchos have been buoyed on the court by the return of senior guard Max Heidegger, who’s increased his season scoring average to 16.3 per game after netting a season-high 31 at Davis and 27 more on Thursday at Fullerton.
“I thought we bounced back after last week,” Heidegger said. “Coach P said the whole time that we really show who we were for the whole 40 minutes. So it’s good to bounce back and come out with a win on the road.”
Davis beat UCSB 84-75 on Feb. 13 by out-shooting the Gauchos 56% to 45.9%, scoring mostly after dribble-penetration.
“Getting driven is all about pride,” Heidegger said. “If guys hit tough shots, they hit tough shots, so it’s more about not getting driven. We have to carry that into the next game and the game after that.
“If we defend the ball, we’re very, very dangerous. The better we defend will dictate how good we can be as a team.”
The Aggies also out-rebounded them 34-28 despite UCSB’s distinct height advantage.
Davis ranks seventh in the nation in both three-point percentage (.393) and free-throw percentage (.782). It’s shot even better in conference games (.426 from three, .789 from the line).
Senior guard Stefan Gonzalez, the Aggies’ third-leading scorer at 11.0 points per game, leads the nation with a three-point percentage of .490 (75-153).
Another senior guard, Joe Mooney, leads Davis with a 13.2-point average while shooting 36.5% from three (57-156). He injured his tailbone while taking a hard fall during the Cal Poly game and played just 12 minutes, but is said to be “good to go” for tonight’s game.
The Aggies also got center Matt Neufeld back from an injury on Thursday.
Point guard guard Ezra Manjon, who is averaging 12.6 points and 4.1 assists, recently became the first freshman to win two Big West Player of the Week Awards since Long Beach State’s Clifton Pondexter in 1974.
“All we can concern ourselves with is us,” Pasternack said. “That’s what I’m concerned with – that we play our basketball, and that do what we do.”