A 86-61 rout of Blue-Green rival Cal Poly on Senior Night secured the second best regular season finish in school history for the UCSB men’s basketball team. The Gauchos were knocked out of first place contention in the Big West with the loss to Long beach State on Thursday, yet their 22-8 overall, 11-5 conference record was good for second place and the second seed in the Big West tournament.
Cal Poly ended the regular season with a 9-21 overall, 4-12 conference record and a date with UCSB in the first round.
One of the key messages Coach Pasternack has been pushing since the beginning of his tenure with the Gauchos is the importance of a strong home court advantage. After a shaky season last year due to injuries, the revitalization of the Thunderdome has been huge both for the team and the school. The season finale was almost filled to capacity thirty minutes before the game, and the difference in atmosphere compared to the two home losses last week shows that the team really does feed off the hype of the crowd.
“While we are playing for ourselves, we’re also playing for the fans and everybody out there”, Max Heidegger explained postgame. “That energy carries over so when they get excited we get more excited.”
The Gauchos were almost a little too excited to start off the match Sunday night, but once the pre-game jitters wore off they composed one of their best offensive games of the year. Early in the first half it was the usual suspects leading the way on the offense, as both graduate transfer Leland King II and sophomore Max Heidegger caught fire. The forward/guard duo combined for 26 of SB’s 38 points, which is a welcome sight heading into the tournament after the dip in production they’ve both had these last weeks. King II’s hot three point shooting helped UCSB build a double digit lead about halfway through the first period, and they ended the half up by eight.
On the defensive end, center Jalen Canty’s return has energized the team. The Gauchos limited Cal Poly to 33.3% shooting in the first half, and a big part of it is how the senior anchors the defense. Other than junior Josh Martin who got much of his 23 points in garbage time, the Mustangs were not able to get anything going in the interior. While Canty does average almost 2 blocks per game, it’s actually his knack for getting defensive rebounds to close out possessions that really changes the game for UCSB. Cutting off second chance opportunities will be huge for the Gauchos going into the tournament, as previous losses against teams like Irvine and Davis show how vital winning the rebound battle is.
UCSB blew the game open in the second half, and in the process put on a passing showcase. The team finished with a season high 27 assists, which is a school record, and shot 67% overall from the field for the half. Although ball movement has been a core tenet of this team since Coach Pasternack took over, it seems that the offensive synergy of the squad is picking up just at the right moment.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team that’s gotten 27 assists in a game”, Coach Pasternack admitted. “ I think what we learned is that when we share the ball, when we have five people on the court that can shoot it’s hard to decide who to focus on… and if we share the ball like this we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Unsurprisingly it was guard Gabe Vincent who led the team in assists with 7 in his final home game as a Gaucho. The senior received a standing ovation as he left the court, and although he didn’t score as much his facilitation was what made the offense run smoothly. His ability to lead by sharing and yet still get points when needed are why he’s been the key player for this school for years. While the team looks ahead to the tournament, it’s important to commemorate Vincent’s already amazing career as a Gaucho.
Moving forward, UCSB plays the seventh-ranked Mustangs again on Thursday in the first round of the Big West tournament. Although this last game was a blowout, Coach Pasternack stressed postgame that the Gauchos are not underestimating their opponent. Coming off of a season where they didn’t even make the Big West tournament there’s no doubt that this team is hungry, it’s just gonna be up to the players to execute the gameplan.
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.