Amadou Sow knew he had room for improvement during UCSB’s 12-day basketball layoff — and that room turned out to be the training room.
The banged-up big man used the Gauchos’ bye week to heal some aching muscles — and he flexed them to good effect on Friday in a 69-52 victory over UC San Diego at the Thunderdome.
“My hips and hamstrings, especially,” Sow said. “They just tell me that my body is a little too tight.
“But I’ve been getting the same treatment on my body three or four times a day to help me get ready for this game.”
Sow, a two-time All-Big West Conference forward, responded with a double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds. He helped the Gauchos (7-3, 3-2 Big West) pull an inside job on the Tritons (2-2, 0-1), out-rebounding them 45-28 and out-scoring them in the paint, 40-18.
“Amadou came into this game struggling a little bit, but I thought he had a great two weeks of practice,” Pasternack said. “The thing I’m most proud of is his 14 rebounds.
“For us to be where we want to be, we have to be able to defend and rebound. JaQuori (McLaughlin) from the guard position had seven rebounds. That’s how we have to be.”
Devearl Ramsey, who made two clutch three-pointers to rally UCSB past Cal State Fullerton in their previous game on Jan. 2, remained hot on Friday with an 11-point first half. He finished with a game-high 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting — which included 3-for-5 from three — to go with four assists.
“In the first half, he hit three huge threes to keep us in the game,” Pasternack said. “In the second half, I thought we were really balanced.”
The first six minutes, however, were a comedy of errors for both rusty teams. The Tritons, who had played only one other game this month because of COVID-19 cancelations, had five turnovers by that point. The Gauchos nearly matched them with four to go with three missed layups.
“We were definitely ready to get back out there and play another game, it just took us a couple of minutes to get our groove back,” Ramsey said.
Robinson Idehen came off the bench to clean up his teammates’ misses, scoring a pair of put-backs in a span of just 48 seconds to put UCSB ahead 13-11. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds in just 15½ minutes of play.
San Diego was less errant with its outside shooting, making five of its first eight attempts from three-point range. Jake Killingsworth sank his second long bomb and Gabe Hadley hit another to put the Tritons on top, 18-15. They were 6-for-13 from three as a team in the first half but only 2-for-10 after the break.
“UC San Diego is a good team — they were up at halftime and with 15 minutes to go against UC Irvine,” Pasternack said. “We had to be really disciplined and make some adjustments at halftime defensively.
“I thought the key to the game was holding them to 32% in the second half.”
Miles Norris scored a hook shot off Ajare Sanni’s driving pass and then passed up another shot to assist JaQuori McLaughlin’s three. McLaughlin added a mid-key jumper as the Gauchos see-sawed back ahead, 22-21. He finished with 11 points and seven assists.
“They’re an unselfish team that really likes each other,” Pasternack said.
Bryce Pope took the lead back for the Tritons, 26-25, with a three and a driving floater. He finished with a team-high 13 points.
But Idehen got it right back for UCSB, 27-26, by assisting Sanni’s three with a screening handoff and then converting his third put-back of the first half.
Ramsey kept the lead for the Gauchos by making back-to-back threes in a 36-second outburst. Sow’s two foul shots put the margin at 35-30 at halftime.
UCSB didn’t waste time getting Sow started in the second half. Ramsey found him on the block for a hook shot on the Gauchos’ first possession and McLaughlin went to him two minutes later on an alley-oop pass.
“One of my goals is to get him going and give him easy shots — get it to him as much as we can,” Ramsey said. “When he gets going, it makes our team so much better.”
Sow added a put-back and another hook shot to score eight points during the first seven minutes of the period, keeping them ahead by five, 44-39.
“Every game, my teammates are trying to get me the ball in scoring position,” Sow said. “They understand the game well and understand our team well, too.”
McLaughlin got the margin into double-digits, 54-42, with a pair of baskets and a driving assist to Idehen off a pick-and-roll play.
The senior guard had four steals in the game, giving him nine in the last two games. UCSB, which had 10 as a team on Friday to force San Diego in 19 turnovers, has made 33 steals in the last three games.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are really athletic,” Ramsey said, “and if we play like that, we know we can run.”
That run through the Thunderdome becomes a marathon tonight at 5 o’clock when the two teams play the second game of their Big West double-header.
“The way college basketball is now, with back-to-back games, it’s a challenge,” Pasternack said. “It’s a mental challenge and an attitude challenge for our guys.”