Tiny Bethesda University didn’t figure to present much of a challenge to UCSB Wednesday night, but there were a few line items that coach Joe Pasternack wanted to check off before next week’s Big West Conference basketball opener.
Defense? Check … The Gauchos held the Flames to 30.3 percent shooting and made a season-high 10 steals.
Rebounding? Check … They overwhelmed Bethesda 68-23 on the backboards and recovered 29 of their own 41 misses.
Offense? Check … They handed out a season-high 28 assists while shooting an even 50 percent in a 109-47 blowout victory at the Thunderdome.
“It was a lot of fun,” said center Ami Lakoju, who responded to his first start of the season with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds. “The game plan was to get it inside — that’s what we talked about in the practices leading up to this game — and that’s what we did.
“I was just happy to contribute.”
Next up for UCSB (11-3) is its Big West opener against rival Cal Poly, which will tip off at the Thunderdome next Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The only box that took a while to get checked off on Wednesday was outside shooting. The Gauchos missed 21 of their first 22 three-pointers before making eight of their last 11.
Freshman Jay Nagle found his mark in the final 51/2 minutes, making six straight threes after having missed his first six. He finished with a team-high and career-high 20 points, and was one of six Gauchos to reach double-figure scoring. Fellow freshman Sékou Touré also had a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Ar’Mond Davis added 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
They did this even though returning All-Big West guard Max Heidegger sat out the game with a strained leg muscle.
“One of the things I noticed right from the start of the season is that we’re really deep and that everybody can contribute,” Nagle said. “When people are out, it’s that next-man-up mentality. We’re so deep and talented that we can fill those roles.”
Wednesday’s bullet points included the margin of 62, which was the largest in school history. The 109 points were also the most scored by the Gauchos since a 109-101 victory over U.S. International University on Nov. 30, 1985. UCSB hadn’t scored more than that since a 110-81 win over Cal State Los Angeles in February of 1972.
The Gaucho Goliaths got to 109 by following Pasternack’s game plan for Bethesda (1-11), a member of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association. The Flames had no one taller than 6-foot-5.
“For us to be successful in the Big West, we have to have an inside-out presence and not just a perimeter game,” Pasternack said. “The last game, Amadou (Sow) was great in the post, and I liked how we started the game, going into Ami … Ami did a great job.”
UCSB’s other two post players also had big nights, with Sow getting 14 points and six rebounds in just 13 minutes and Robinson Idehen adding 11 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes.
Lakoju got his first start in place of senior power forward Jarriesse Blackmon, who was away attending a funeral. The 6-foot-9 and 260-pound senior responded by out-scoring Bethesda all by himself, 7-0, in the first 2:12.
The Flames flickered to life with their own 7-0 run, capped by Joante Avery’s game-tying three-pointer. He led them with 11 points, which included two more baskets that kept them close at 14-11.
But Bethesda missed 19 of its next 22 shots, amd Touré promptly put the Flames on the run. His scoring drives served as bookends to an 18-0 run that put the Gauchos ahead 32-11.
Igli Pirgu’s three-pointer ended the Flames’ six-minute scoreless drought. But Touré added two more slithering drives to the basket to ignite a 7-0 outburst for UCSB, giving it a 39-14 lead. The margin was 44-19 by halftime.
It still took a while before UCSB could get the outside shots to drop. The Gauchos were 1-for-22 from three until Touré drilled one from the corner with 8:43 to go. He then encouraged Nagle to join the fun, and his classmate responded with six straight makes.