After three straight games against mid-to-major conference teams, the UCSB men’s basketball team will get a bit of a break when it takes on Menlo College on Saturday afternoon in the Thunderdome.
While the Golden State Athletic Conference lacks the cachet of the Pac-12 or Conference USA, the Oaks come into Saturday’s game as hot as any team the Gauchos have played this year. Menlo is 4-1 this season after losing 73-70 to Cal Maritime on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Gauchos are 1-3 after falling 78-67 to Oregon State on Wednesday night. UCSB never led and trailed by as much as 19 points in the second half but hung tight throughout the first half.
Facing off against a high-level defense, the Gauchos couldn’t buy a bucket for much of the game. UCSB shot just under 37% from the field and went 5-27 on 3-pointers.
Sophomore forward Amadou Sow led the Gauchos in points and rebounds with 14 and 11, respectively, while graduate transfer forward Matt Freeman was 6-9 from the field for 13 points.
The Gauchos had no answer, however, for Beaver forward Tres Tinkle, who scored 27 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and went to the free throw line a game-high 9 times. Oregon State, as a whole, found offense much easier to come by than UCSB did and shot 56.6% from the field despite going 4-15 from beyond the 3-point line.
UCSB gets a few days to move on from Oregon State and turn its attention towards Menlo. The Oaks represent something of a reprieve for the Gauchos, at least on paper, and UCSB will likely be the toughest team Menlo plays all season.
The Oaks are not a particularly tall team, something the Gauchos will look to exploit on Saturday. Menlo’s tallest player who plays significant minutes is 6’7” freshman forward Jake Tranter and 6’6” sophomore forward Corey Le’aupepe leads the team with 6.6 rebounds per game.
UCSB boasts three significant contributors taller than Tranter: 6’9”sophomore forward Sow, 6’10” junior forward Robinson Idehen and 6’10” graduate transfer forward Freeman. While Freeman is more of an outside threat, Sow and Idehen will both have the opportunity to use their size to their advantage.
Menlo relies heavily on 3-pointers, with distance shots making up about 40% of their overall field goal attempts. The Oaks are shooting 41.8% on those 3-point attempts and will likely rely on their shooting to attempt the upset.
Menlo might be onto something with that strategy against UCSB. The Gauchos are shooting 31.8% from beyond the arc, but their opponents are bombing away at a 40.3% clip.
Through four games, the Gauchos have proven vulnerable to the 3-point shot. That’s music to the Oaks’ ears and something Head Coach Joe Pasternack will likely focus on going into Saturday’s game.
Four different Menlo players — sophomore guard Ross Williams, senior guard Jeremiah Testa, junior guard N’Jai LeBlanc and junior guard Curtis Witt — have taken at least ten 3-point attempts this season, and all have proven to be more than capable shooters. Rice University had a similar array of shooters and used them to break the UCSB defense down last weekend, a result Pasternack would like to avoid this time around.
A significant chunk of Menlo’s successful start to the season came without one of its best and most experienced players, senior forward John Paine. Paine missed the second and third games of the season and is still working his way back into the lineup, but he is already reasserting himself as a major offensive weapon for the Oaks with 13.3 points per game.
Limiting Menlo’s 3-point shooting will throw a wrench in the gears of the Oaks’ offense and allow the Gauchos to focus much of their remaining attention on Paine. If UCSB fails to do so, they could be in for another rough afternoon in the Thunderdome.
UCSB takes on Menlo on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the Thunderdome.