A big win tipped off a big month which continues tonight for the UCSB men’s basketball team.
“Pete Newell always said that you’re driving for show in November, December and January,” Gaucho coach Joe Pasternack said, borrowing a golf analogy from the former Cal coach. “February and March are for putting for dough.”
UCSB, which teed off on Long Beach State, 87-62, on Feb. 1, will return to the Thunderdome tonight at 7 o’clock to face second-place Hawaii (14-6, 5-1 Big West Conference). First-place UC Irvine (14-9, 6-1) will follow on Saturday.
The Gauchos (14-8, 3-4) played their best team basketball of the season on Saturday at Long Beach with 22 assists and enough man-to-man, help-defense to hold the 49ers to 36.2% shooting. UCSB’s opponents had shot a combined 52.5% in the previous five games.
“We were just sticking to it, not losing belief in each other, trusting each other,” said 6-foot-10 forward Matt Freeman, a graduate transfer who scored a career-high 24 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the three-point line. “Like coach says, we have such a talented team, ‘Don’t lose it just because we lost a couple of games … We’ve got it all there.’
“We’ve got to be moving the ball and sharing the ball. We had something like 22 assists (at Long Beach), and it showed. We’re so much more successful when we move the ball, so we’ve just got to keep doing that.”
Freeman’s big night improved his season average to 10.0 points per game, giving the Gauchos four double-figure scorers. His three-point percentage of .435 ranks fifth in the Big West.
Senior guard Max Heidegger, who came within one rebound at Long Beach of the first triple-double at UCSB since Brian Shaw (1987-88 season), leads the team with a 15.9-point average. He ranks 15th on the Gauchos’ all-time scoring list with 1,250 points, putting him within 102 of No. 14 Scott Fisher.
“He’s so much more than just a shooter or scorer,” Pasternack said. “He’s really become a complete player and excellent passer, and as we saw at Long Beach, he can really rebound the ball, too.
“He has three levels offensively: shooting the ball, driving the ball, and pulling up to shoot.”
The Gauchos’ other top scorers are guard JaQuori McLaughlin and forward Amadou Sow, both of whom are at 14.1 points per game.
Sow, whose rebound average of 7.2 ranks second in the Big West to the 7.4 of Hawaii ’s Zigmars Raimo, is coming off consecutive double-doubles. He got a season-high 14 rebounds at Long Beach.
“Coach reminds me every game, ‘Don’t think about anything but rebounding,’” Sow said. “Whenever I’m in, I just think about crash, crash, crash.”
Hawaii has one of the Big West’s most potent backcourt duos in junior Drew Buggs and senior Eddie Stansberry. Buggs leads the league and is 20th nationally with an assist average of 6.3 per game while Stansberry is No. 2 in the conference in both scoring (17.0) and three-pointers (3.1) per game.
Stansberry, who was held to six points and 1-for-6 shooting by UCSB on Jan. 18, followed that up with games of 23 and 22 points in wins over UC Davis and Cal State Northridge, respectively, to earn Big West Player of the Week honors.
“Hawaii has a great system,” Pasternack said. “Stansberry didn’t score a lot against us but he’s a big concern, obviously, and is coming off some outstanding performances.
“We expect him to be at this best and we really have to do a great job of limiting him.”
A back ailment has sidelined 6-6 junior Samuta Avea (11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds) since the Gaucho game, but 6-3 freshman Justin Webster has averaged 13 points in his place.
The Rainbow Warriors have won their last four games — all of which were played in Hawaii. They are 1-3 in Big West road games and have lost three straight at the Thunderdome.
“We need the Thunderdome to be packed because I can’t tell you what a home-court advantage it is when everybody comes and supports their home-town team,” Pasternack said.
A car donated by Bunnin Chevrolet and Cadillac will be up for grabs at halftime for a lucky student who can make a half-court shot.
“We didn’t play well offensively the first time when we played them there, and we’ve got to do a much better job from an execution standpoint,” Pasternack said. “But they’re at the top of the standings for a reason.
“They’re a really good, seasoned team with two seniors, Raimo and Stansberry, who are having great years, and a junior point guard, Buggs, who’s one of the best in the league.”
He was buoyed by his team’s effort in practice this week.
“It’s such a long, long season, and we’re not even halfway through conference play,” Pasternack said. “My concern today is to just get a little better, and sustain our offensive execution, and in how we want to defend.
“We’re in the month of February now, and we’ve got to keep improving our team so we can ultimately be at our best in March.”