UCSB picked up the subregional championship in the Progressive Legends Classic Tournament with an 80-73 victory over Montana on Tuesday. This win marked the first time since March 2016 that the Gauchos have won consecutive games, and technically gave UCSB a 5th place finish in the opening tourney.
The Grizzlies dropped to 3-2 as a result of the loss while the Gauchos pushed back through the .500 barrier and now sit at 3-2 as well.
UCSB employed a balanced attack to start the game off. Four different players scored in the first five minutes for the Gauchos, and they quickly ran up a double digit lead. Their offense to start seemed like a testament to the heavy focus on ball movement that Coach Pasternack brought to the team as they consistently passed up good shots for great ones, something they hadn’t been doing in their prior losses.
The engine for the Gauchos offense was definitely Leland King II in the first half. The forward had his third 20 point game of the year, and is playing some of the best basketball of his career right now. He had ten points and four rebounds in the half, and was hounding the Grizzlies on the defensive end.
This game showcased how much value he has just by his ability to stretch the floor. The graduate transfer went 2-4 from behind the arc, and while the amount might not sound that impressive, his accuracy from three forces defenders to respect his shot and creates huge lanes for the Gauchos to take advantage of. He finished with 20 points on 6-9 shooting, but he brings so much more to the offensive end than box score stats.
The other graduate transfer, Marcus Jackson, showed his versatility on the offensive end in his second game back from a hip injury. His playmaking ability was on full display in the first half, as he led the team in assists. The guard had a couple key sequences in the first half that helped push the lead up for the Gauchos, including a big block which led to a bucket by Max Heidegger that put them up by 18 with ten minutes left in the half.
UCSB took an 11 point lead into halftime, but were quickly blindsided by a Grizzly run led by forward Jamar Akoh. The transfer from Cal State Fullerton revived Montana, getting a jump-shot and steal within the first two minutes, starting a wave of momentum that would end with them actually taking the lead about halfway in. He scored all of his 12 points in the second half, and would have been a hero had the Gauchos not had an offensive igniter of their own in Max Heidegger.
After a semi-quiet first half by the sophomore guard’s high standards (he “only” scored 8 points), Heidegger exploded for 18 points in the second. He went 4-6 from deep and made 10 field goals in just the second half alone, more than any other player made in the entire game. Heidegger closed out the game with 8 straight points, putting it out of reach for Montana and securing the win for the Gauchos.
Looking ahead, UCSB returns to the Thunderdome on Friday to take on Prairie View A&M (1-3). The Panthers come into this matchup fresh off their first victory over Eastern Kentucky, but have lost by double digits in their other three games.
The Gauchos are going to have to keep an eye on forward Zachary Hamilton, who’s averaging near 18 points and 4 rebounds a game this year. It will be another challenge for Jalen Canty and King II down low, although they have responded great to almost any player thrown their way.
Focusing on the fundamentals is going to be essential for the Gauchos in this matchup, which they did a great job of in the last game against Montana. If they maintain the high free throw shooting percentage they had against the Grizzlies (80%), and limit turnovers, it should be a triumphant return home for UCSB.
UCSB and Prairie View tip off at the Thunderdome at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 24.
Omar Hernandez currently serves as the Sports Editor. His passions are understanding the various links between sports and culture and watching the Warriors dominate the NBA.