For a basketball team struggling to get stops, UCSB’s JaQuori McLaughlin knew just where to go:
“That solves a lot of problems when you just get the ball into Amadou,” the junior guard said. “Every time you go into the post, something good happens.”
He reaped what he Sow-ed as his sophomore teammate recorded his second double-double in as many games, sparking an 88-69 victory over Menlo College Saturday at the Thunderdome.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Gauchos (2-3).
Sow, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, scored a career-high 25 points and led UCSB’s 39-15 dominance of the backboards with 10 rebounds, thwarting an upset attempt by the pesky Oaks (4-2).
“You want to play guys who challenge you in every minute of the game, and that’s what they did today,” Sow said of Menlo, an NAIA school with no starter taller than 6-6. “They challenged us, and we responded.”
The Oaks were the third-straight opponent to shoot better than 50% against UCSB, making 51.9% of their attempts.
The Gauchos shot 55.4% and had their size advantage rewarded with 22 free throws, making 20. Sow went 9-for-10 from the foul line and 8-for-13 from the field.
“He’s going to have to be great free throw shooter,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “He’s going to get fouled a lot.”
The Gauchos’ third-year coach wasn’t as happy about his team’s man-to-man defense.
“We have a long way to go in different areas on our team,” Pasternack said. “We just have to get better defensively — better individually and better as team defenders.
“You’ve just got to work at it every day. That’s the only thing I know. It’s a process. The season is a marathon and we have to continue to get better.”
Pasternack was forced to call a time out after Menlo surged to a 7-0 lead after just two minutes. The Oaks made three of their first four shots, which included a three-pointer by John Paine. The versatile 6-6 senior led Menlo with 19 points.
McLaughlin got the Gauchos untracked by scoring a runner and assisting a three-point play by Robinson Idehen, who scored nine points in just 11 minutes of playing time.
McLaughlin, UCSB’s main playmaker with Devearl Ramsey out with a muscle strain, finished with 11 points and six assists.
“That’s my natural position, playing point guard,” he said.
But UCSB didn’t take the lead for good, 19-18, until Sow scored off McLaughlin’s entry pass with 11:41 left in the first half.
“JaQuori is always looking to make me look better,” Sow said. “We have that instant connection every time we’re on the court. He’s a great playmaker.”
Back-to-back threes by McLaughlin and Matt Freeman gave UCSB a 25-18 lead. Freeman, a 6-10 forward, continued to show his offensive versatility with a stat line of 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
The Gauchos also finally got some stops, forcing Menlo to miss six of seven shots. Max Heidegger snuck inside for his first basket and UCSB’s first double-digit lead, 33-23.
The bench kept Menlo at a 10-point distance, 39-29. Roberto Gittens set up Sékou Touré’s layup after grabbing an offensive rebound and then hit a corner three on his next trip downcourt. Gittens, a transfer from the College of Southern Idaho, added another three late in the game while Touré also scored six points with four rebounds.
“I thought Roberto Gittens came off the bench and played hard,” Pasternack said. “Sékou Touré gave us 26 minutes and got four rebounds — three offensive rebounds — and I think that’s kind of what he started doing at Oregon State, crashing the offensive glass.
“Sékou is a great example of someone who accepts his role … Having him come off the bench is huge in giving us that pop.”
Sow capped his 14-point first half by hitting a mid-key jumper just before the buzzer, sending the Gauchos into the locker room with a 44-33 lead.
UCSB shot 55.6% in the first half but gave up an even 50.
Brandon Cyrus, who injured his ankle on a hard fall during the first half, came back strong in the second after getting it taped. He converted a put-back and then a layup off McLaughlin’s pass during the first two minutes of the period while on his way to a 10-point performance.
Consecutive threes by Freeman and Jay Nagle put UCSB ahead 56-43.
Toure’s tip-in gave the Gauchos a margin of 66-48 with 10:49 remaining.
Menlo wouldn’t go away, however. Testa Jeremiah converted a runner and then assisted Paine’s give-and-go layup to get the Oaks back within striking distance, 77-66, with 3:32 remaining.
But McLaughlin took control with two foul shots and a left-handed runner that began at the top of the key.
“He was trying to force me to go left, so I just went to my left,” McLaughlin said. “It was a wide-open lane and I scored it.”
He assisted two more baskets by Sow as UCSB pulled away for its 19-point victory.
But the Gauchos’ defense left McLaughlin wanting.
“I thought we played harder against Oregon State even though we lost,” he said. “I think we overlooked (Menlo) and we can’t do that.
“Whomever we’re playing, we’ve got to play our game and not worry about the name on their jersey and just play for the one on ours.”