The hallowed halls of UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion can intimidate even the most Pollyannaish of basketball opponents.
“Having been at Arizona and Cal, playing at Pauley Pavilion for 14 years, I’ve seen it mess with players’ minds even at those schools, believe it or not,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said.
He is countering that by having his Gauchos recite a mantra for today’s 4 p.m. game in Westwood: “It’s only about us.”
“Our No. 1 focus is not about UCLA,” he said. “It’s about us just getting better from our last game.”
The Gauchos bought into that thinking while preparing for last Wednesday’s season opener against Jackson State. They were feeling jolly about the trip to Pauley, however, following their 83-62 victory.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and play hard, and show everyone what we can do,” sophomore forward Amadou Sow said after Wednesday’s win. “We haven’t been able to even think about them before now because of Jackson State.”
Junior guard JaQuori McLaughlin, a transfer from Oregon State, actually set a freshman record for that school during his 2017 visit to Pauley: His 49th three-pointer of that season broke the mark while giving the Beavers a 27-24 lead in a game they’d eventually lose to the 10th-ranked Bruins, 78-60.
“It’ll be a fun game,” he said simply on the eve of this year’s contest.
Long Beach State, UCSB’s Big West Conference rival, took its best shot at the Bruins on Wednesday, leading with less than three minutes to go before UCLA rallied for a 69-65 victory.
The Bruins are talented but still getting acquainted with each other under new coach Mick Cronin, who spent his previous 13 seasons at Cincinnati. They scored 42 points in the second half after trailing 33-27 at halftime.
“We’ve got a lot of growth as a team to do,” Cronin said. “We’re still trying to figure out who to play and with who. Trying to figure out roles on this team and not turn the ball over… we had 42 in the second half because we only had four turnovers.
“If we don’t turn the ball over, we’ve got a chance to be a decent offensive team.”
Pasternack recognizes many of UCLA’s players from his days as Arizona’s recruiting coordinator.
“They have a deep team – they have 10 players who can all play,” he said. “They’re all top-100 players in the country … Top-50 players in the country.
“Obviously they have a lot of talent.”
Tyger Campbell, a 5-foot-11 redshirt freshman from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, led UCLA on Wednesday with 15 points and five assists.
“He’s the head of the snake,” Pasternack said. “He’s a consummate point guard but he’s really scoring for them, as well. He’s their most important player.
“It’ll be a challenge defending him. We have to do a good job on him.”
The Bruins will have a size advantage with such players as 6-9, 250-pound forward Cody Riley (14 points against Long Beach), 6-10, 245-pound forward Jalen Hill (seven rebounds), and 6-9, 215-pound guard Chris Smith (13 points, eight rebounds). UCLA out-rebounded Long Beach 38-29.
“Coach Cronin has installed a mindset of defense and rebounding,” Pasternack said. “They’re probably the best rebounding team in the Pac-12. They’ve got athleticism and length – even at the two-guard, where Prince Ali (10 points) is 6-5.
“He’s a fifth-year senior that I coached against when I was at Arizona.”
UCLA had 11 steals while forcing Long Beach into 15 turnovers — the same number that UCSB committed against Jackson State.
“We can’t turn the ball over 15 times,” Pasternack said. “When we turn it over, they’re going to get layups and dunks on the other end.
“They do a great job of playing a pressure, switching man-to-man defense. They deny and they play a run-and-jump press. We’re going to have to keep our poise and attack. We have to really attack.”
Although Sow (20 points, nine rebounds), McLaughlin (17 points, four assists), and Max Heidegger (19 points) all had stellar games against Jackson State, Pasternack considers junior point guard Devearl Ramsey (six assists and five rebounds) to be the key against UCLA.
“Devearl had a couple more turnovers (three) than I would have liked, but he’s the heart of our team,” Pasternack said. “The ball is in his hands a lot.
“His shot wasn’t falling (0-for-5 shooting against Jackson State), but he does so many other things. And, to me, he’s the heartbeat of our team. As far as he goes, we go.”