Jarriesse Blackmon shoots the ball over a defender. Dustin Harris/Daily Nexus

Tying the school record of 23 wins in a season, the UCSB men’s basketball team pummeled the Cal Poly Mustangs 75-53 in the first game of the Big West tournament. The Gauchos put on the most dominating display of the day, as even though all top seeded seeds won their quarterfinals, the other three games were decided by a combined margin of seven points.

The Mustangs ended their 2017-18 season 9-22 overall, good for a seventh place finish in the Big West conference.

To call this game an absolute wire to wire blowout would be an understatement. Whether it was the fact that four out of five starters scored within the first five possessions for the Gauchos, the fact that Cal Poly did not lead a single second of this game, or even the fact that at halftime UCSB more than doubled up Cal Poly in any important offensive statistic, the first half was one of the most lopsided in tournament history.

The Gauchos were hot from the jump, as an early 9-2 lead ballooned to 30-10 about halfway through the first half. Although his box score numbers don’t quite reflect it, the play of center Jalen Canty is a huge reason for the late-season revitalization of the offense.

The senior did finish the game with 10 points and 8 rebounds in 20 minutes, however those numbers don’t speak to the spacing he creates by being an offensive threat down low. And it’s not just the pure shooters like Heidegger and senior guard Gabe Vincent benefiting from the big man’s return, in fact forward Leland King II might be the happiest to see him back out there.

In the games that Canty has been back King’s assist and shooting numbers have risen rapidly, and the synergy between them could be key to maintaining a strong inside presence throughout March.

In terms of defense, the Gauchos put together one of their most stifling performances of the year. In the first half they limited Cal Poly to 18 points on 24 percent shooting from the field, and the buzzer beater victory that the Mustangs pulled off in their first match-up definitely was a motivating factor.

“We learned about our defense,” Vincent said. “We learned about what went wrong and what happens when we play defense the wrong way.”

Vincent himself had two steals in the game, and his constant pressure on the Cal Poly ball-handlers caused almost all of their seven turnovers.

The senior made history on the other side of the ball, setting the record for most threes in a season with 242 and also climbing up the UCSB all-time scoring list to 10th all-time with 1,430 points. Him and the rest of the Gaucho starters were actually able to rest going into halftime up 45-18.

Because of the huge lead, the second half was a great opportunity for the UCSB rotation players to get ready for the later rounds. Both guard Christian Terrell and Center Ami Lakoju were huge off the bench for the Gauchos, a great sign both for future years and the rest of this tournament.

Lakoju had a 10/10 double double and Terrell added 12 points of his own in really the first game that these two have been as aggressive off the bench. They captained the bench rotation which was on the court for most of the second half that never let the lead go below 20, and ultimately closed out the game up 22.

Looking ahead, UCSB is taking on the third-ranked UCI Anteaters Friday in the semi-finals. Irvine is coming off a last second comeback victory over Hawaii in the first round, yet they can also claim an advantage over the Gauchos because of their blowout win last time these two teams met.

A big difference maker is going to be Canty, who was suspended for the last matchup between these two teams. The matchup down low with him and forward Tommy Rutherford will be big in determining who has control of the paint, something that Coach Pasternack has been emphasizing coming into the tournament.

The best record in school history and a trip to the Big West finals is on the line Friday, it’s time for the Gauchos to go all out.

UCSB will face UC Irvine at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 10th at the Honda Center. The game will also be televised on ESPNU.

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