UCSB’s Amadou Sow was nominated this week for a national basketball award, but what he really wants is the national tournament bid that comes with a Big West Conference championship.
The Gauchos finished second in the league standings during each of Sow’s previous two seasons.
“I’m tired of being second,” he said after making the official Watch List of the Lou Henson Mid-Major National Player of the Year Award. “The coaches are tired of it, and so is every player in the locker room.
“We’re all trying to go out and play really hard and come out first this year. That’s our goal.”
Sow, who returns to action at the Thunderdome tonight in a 5 p.m. game against Bethesda, is one of 50 players from 21 mid-major conferences chosen to the Henson Award Watch List. The award, sponsored by collegeinsider.com, honors the former Illinois and New Mexico State head coach who won 775 games in 41 seasons.
Sow, a 6-foot-9 junior, has twice been voted to the All-Big West Conference Second Team and he was selected to this year’s Preseason All-Big West First Team.
“The good thing about Amadou is that he loves the game,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “He’s worked extra hard and just eats and breathes basketball.
“But on top of that, he’s the total student-athlete. After 2½ years at UCSB, he has a grade-point average above 3.0. And what I’m most proud of is that, being from Mali, he’s done this with English being his fourth language.
“The fact that he’s doing so well here academically speaks to who he is as a total student-athlete and to our academic support system. He’s a very self-motivated and high-character individual who can also play basketball really well.”
Sow ranked among the Big West leaders in four categories last year: scoring average (fourth at 14.1 points per game), field-goal percentage (first at 54.7%), rebound average (second at 7.03), and blocked-shot average (third at 1.13). He also developed a three-point shot, making 38.1% from long range.
He concentrated on his inside game during this past offseason.
“I’ve been working on my finishes,” he said. “I’ve been trying to work my way through double-teams and find my teammates. I think the main improvement for me is being able to handle pressure down there.”
Sow scored 20 points on 10-for-12 shooting in UCSB’s Sunday opener against Saint Katherine, an NAIA school from San Marcos. He also had five rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes of action.
“He keeps getting better because he works so hard and is so consumed with the game,” Pasternack said. “Experience automatically improves you, and I think he knows our system better, and knows where to be and what to do. He’ll be a better player this year than last year.”
Sow said the team’s great depth — which includes his 6-10 backup, Robinson Idehen — keeps this year’s Gauchos from depending on any one player.
“The good thing is that it’s next man up,” he said. “If somebody isn’t playing great, the guy coming in is going to have great energy and ready to do well. Everybody is really good on this team.”
The Gauchos, who were without all-league senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin in Sunday’s opener, out-shot Saint Katherine’s 55.6% to 38.3% and out-rebounded them 47-26. McLaughlin was sidelined with a minor muscle strain.
“He’s doing better but we’ll wait to see how he does in practice (Wednesday) to determine whether he plays (tonight),” Pasternack said on Wednesday.
Bethesda, a Christian College located in Anaheim, is a member of the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference. The Flames scheduled four other Big West opponents, having already lost to Cal Poly and UC Irvine. They’ll face Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Fullerton later this month.
The Gauchos moved their game against Bethesda up from Saturday to Thursday because of scheduling complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. UCSB had to postpone three earlier games, leading to its latest start to a season since it beat Wagner in overtime, 77-74, during the first round of the Gaucho Classic on Dec. 1, 1994.
Frantz Pierre-Louis, the father of current UCSB sophomore Josh Pierre-Louis, was a freshman on that Wagner team.
The competition has been intense during the Gauchos’ extended weeks of practice, Pasternack said. Even without McLaughlin, 10 Gauchos played at least 13 minutes on Sunday.
“They all know that no matter where they are today, they might be in a different place on the depth chart a week or a month from now,” he said. “We have the ability to motivate with our bench. We have a standard, and we’re not going to drop the standard.”
Pasternack said his team didn’t live up to that standard during the final 10 minutes of Sunday’s game when Saint Katherine’s scored 21 of its 55 points.
“We have to be locked in for a full 40 minutes,” he said. “We weren’t that the other night. We have to get better at our transition defense. We have to get better at getting back and stopping the ball.
“We also have to take great shots. Sometimes we settled for a poor shot selection. It’s a game of percentages, and the team that takes the highest percentage of shots wins.”