The UCSB men’s basketball team had a triumphant return home Saturday night against the University of San Diego, grinding out a 67-57 victory.
This was Gauchos’ fifth-straight win, their biggest streak since March 2015, and the team now has as many wins as they had all of last season with a 6-2 record. The Toreros are now building the wrong kind of streak as this was their second loss in a row, and they now sit at 5-2.
Most of the first half could be summed up with one word: sloppy. The first two minutes included six missed shots, two missed free-throws, two turnovers, and zero points. The Gauchos didn’t even score until three minutes in, when graduate transfer Marcus Jackson took advantage of an errant pass and took it home for a dunk. Jackson finished with an all-around stat line of 12 points 3 rebounds and 4 assists, yet his biggest impact was on the defensive end where he was tasked with facing the Toreros’ best player in Isaiah Wright.
Wright came into the matchup leading his team in almost all offensive categories, and postgame Coach Joe Pasternack reiterated just how important it was for the Gauchos to have held him to only 11 points on 5/14 shooting on the game. “We knew he was the head of the team”, Pasternack expressed. “Marcus and the rest of the squad did a great job cutting off the head and forcing the ball elsewhere”.
The head of the Gauchos for the first half was Leland King II, who finished the game with yet another double-double performance of 18 points and 12 rebounds. He was the only one who had anything going early on, at one point scoring eight straight points on consecutive trips.
The forward knew that he was going to have to produce early on for the team to have success. “They were switching the point guard on me so I used my size early on”, he admitted postgame. “It’s all about drawing attention to make the game easier for my teammates”.
Although guard Olin Carter III had a solid first half for USD, in which he picked up eight points, no other player stepped up for the Toreros which led to a 32-25 lead for UCSB going into halftime.
The second half was all about digging deep on the defensive end for the Gauchos and just letting the offense flow naturally. This was made much easier by the shooting of Max Heidegger, who after a quiet first half made a few key shots as the game came down to the wire. The 8th leading scorer in the country showcased why he deserves national acclaim, at one point he had consecutive possessions with long Steph Curry-like threes, one of which became and And-1 as he got fouled coming down.
USD’s best players came out to play in the second half however, as forward Isaiah Pineiro almost had a double double in the half alone, getting 12 points and 8 rebounds. Junior Isaiah Wright also played far better, knocking in 10 points and at one point they had cut the lead down to four points.
At the end of the day, the Gauchos defense was too much for the Toreros. Coach Pasternack emphasized after the game that: “This team’s identity is defense,” and from the way in which the Gauchos performed, it would be hard to argue against him.
Having a strong and communicative defense is essential for any team that wants to have prolonged success, which is what Coach P and the Gauchos seem to be laying the foundation for now.