Although the UCSB men’s basketball team doesn’t officially open its season until November, the two-time defending Big West Tournament champions have had a busy offseason, going 4-1 in an offseason exhibition tour of eastern Canada.
“It was a great trip,” senior guard James Nunnally said. “We developed a nice team chemistry, really getting to know each other.”
The Gauchos opened practice Saturday, August 20 to prepare for the 10 day, five game tour, which began with an exhibition game against the Ontario Revolution on September 5.
In Santa Barbara’s first game, the team defeated the Revolution 105-76.
Senior guard Orlando Johnson, who had a busy summer competing for Team USA at the World University Games in China, led the squad in the opener with 26 points, five rebounds and four assists in just over 19 minutes off the bench.
“I am very thankful,” Johnson said. “I was blessed with some great opportunities this summer that I was able to make the most out of and just play the game that I love.”
Balance was the name of the game for UCSB in the opener, as six different Gauchos scored in double figures.
“We got a chance to get some of the young guys and transfers some run, and just develop our chemistry and team,” Johnson said. “It will only make us a stronger and deeper team come season time.”
On the second day of Santa Barbara’s exhibition tour, the team traveled to the University of Toronto to take on the host Varsity Blues. Behind an efficiently managed game, UCSB easily defeated Toronto 85-65. The Gauchos shot 46.7 percent and had nine turnovers, while limiting the Blues to 32.3 percent shooting and forcing 15 turnovers.
With a travel day between Toronto and Ottawa, the Gauchos prepared for Carleton University, their toughest opponent on the tour.
In front of a rowdy, sold out crowd at the Raven’s Nest, UCSB got off to a slow start. After Johnson scored the first basket of the game on a jumper, the Ravens went on an 11-0 run to take the early lead.
From there, the Gauchos were forced to play from behind for much of the game. Led by Johnson, the Gauchos outscored Carleton 21-9 to come within two points at halftime, 30-28.
“It was a crazy game,” Nunnally said. “There were noisemakers, nobody was sitting down…”
UCSB took its second lead of the game after a 7-2 run to start the third quarter, but the Ravens came back and led the rest of the way to a 71-61 win.
“They executed and played hard,” Johnson said. “We just had a bad shooting night.”
Attempting to rebound from the loss at Carleton, UCSB responded with a hard fought 67-65 victory over the University of Ottawa, followed by a dominating 87-69 victory over Concordia University of Montreal in the finale of the team’s Canadian road trip.
UCSB will start practice again on October 15 to prepare for its upcoming season.
“We are working hard, ready to make every practice count,” Nunnally said. “This is the last year for us seniors, and we want to work hard to make sure that we don’t come up short.”