UCSB got a good test result this week on the ankle of Max Heidegger, and now it hopes to pass its final two regular-season tests on the basketball court.
The Gauchos, who are locked in a three-way tie for second place in the Big West Conference, will face Cal State Fullerton at the Thunderdome tonight at 7 p.m. with Cal Poly to follow on Saturday.
“It’s important to get a crowd behind us for these last two home games,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “We need the community to come out and support their hometown team. That’ll be a big deal.”
The report on Heidegger’s left ankle is no small result. He injured it during last Thursday’s game at UC Riverside, with initial reports indicating a possible fracture.
“The MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) came back and it was much better than suggested,” Pasternack said. “He’s got a sprained ankle, and we thought it was a (more serious) high-ankle sprain.
“He’s actually working really hard with physical therapy and our trainers round-the-clock.”
Heidegger, who is averaging a team-best 17.0 points in Big West games and 16.0 on the season, is listed as “out indefinitely.”
“I hope I can coach him again,” Pasternack said.
Heidegger’s 27-point outburst helped the Gauchos (19-10, 8-6 Big West) rally for a 75-66 victory at Fullerton on Feb. 20.
“We had a really tough game at their place and were really fortunate to come out on top,” Pasternack said. “They beat UCLA at UCLA, and they’ve also beaten Northridge and Davis.”
The Titans (10-19, 5-9 Big West) have two of the league’s top-five scorers. Senior guard Brandon Kamga ranks second in conference games at 18.5 points per game. Forward Jackson Rowe, a 6-foot-7 senior, is at 16.9 while ranking third in rebound average at 8.0. Senior point guard Austen Awosika is second in assists at 4.4 per game.
“They’re the fastest-paced team in our league and get to the free-throw line better than any team in our league,” Pasternack pointed out.
Fullerton’s ability to drive and draw fouls makes it a dangerous opponent for a Gaucho team that has just eight scholarship players available tonight. UCSB has gotten better at preventing dribble-penetration, although its two centers – Amadou Sow and Robinson Idehen – both fouled out of Saturday’s game at UC Irvine.
“We’ve spent a lot of time working on that, guarding the ball,” Pasternack said. “We’re going to have to get back on defense against Fullerton because they have such a great tempo.
“We’ve won 17 games when we’ve held teams to 70 points or less. That, and rebounding, are things we’re really going to have to focus on.”
Idehen, a 6-10 junior, gave UCSB a big boost off the bench at Irvine with career-high totals of 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“Robinson is a special talent,” Pasternack said. “We’re really going to need him down the stretch to provide incredible energy off the bench.”
He became the sixth Gaucho to score at least 20 points in a game this season.
“We can compete with anybody in this league — anybody,” Idehen said. “Something we talk about is the mental part … That it’s more mental than physical for us to win.
“That’s something that coach keeps pushing in the locker room and that’s something that’s going to keep us going.”
The others to reach 20 this season have been Heidegger (seven times), Sow (seven), JaQuori McLaughlin (six), Matt Freeman (twice), and Devearl Ramsey (once).
The last time a UCSB team had six players accomplish the feat was during its first NCAA Division 1 Tournament season of 1988 with Brian Shaw (five), Mike Doyle (five), Carrick DeHart (four), Brian Johnson (twice), Eric McArthur (once), and Carlton Davenport (once).
Idehen and fellow reserves Jay Nagle and Sékou Touré figure to play more prominent roles down the stretch.
“Jay is a real weapon off the bench with the way he can shoot the ball from the forward position,” Pasternack said. “Sékou also gives us so much energy and we’re counting on him for some great defense and rebounding.
“Hopefully, both those guys can really respond and give us much-needed depth from our bench.”