After the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team saw their record-breaking 13-game win streak come to an end last week against the UC Riverside Highlanders, the Gauchos bounced back as they clinched the Big West Conference’s regular season championship with their two double-digit victories against the Cal Poly Mustangs.
With the two wins, the Gauchos end the regular season with a 19-4 overall record and a 13-3 record in conference play. Cal Poly ends the season on a 9-game losing streak while only winning one game against a Big West opponent. Both teams now look to prepare for the Big West Tournament, which begins on March 9.
With this record, the Gauchos have clinched their first Big West Conference’s regular season championship since the 2009-10 season and fourth all-time. However, they must go undefeated in the Big West Tournament next week to clinch their first berth in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament since the 2011 season.
In Friday’s matchup against Cal Poly, the Gauchos played the game with high defensive intensity, as they forced the Mustangs to 17 turnovers. This pressure on the defensive end of the court helped the Gauchos jump out to a 10-point lead in the first half, as they took 8 more shots than Cal Poly. By guarding the Mustangs at such a high level, UCSB covered up their miscues on the other side of the ball.
After shooting a paltry 25 percent behind the arc in the first half, the Gauchos managed to shoot even worse in the next period, as they missed all four 3-point attempts they made in the second half, thereby ending the game with an 18.8-percent 3-point shooting percentage. Although Cal Poly shot better, their lower volume of shots and their inability to get to the free-throw line allowed for UCSB to acquire a substantial lead.
Although the Gauchos shot poorly, their passing game was much stronger. UCSB ended the game with a 19-11 assist-to-turnover ratio and was led by JaQuori McLaughlin’s 15 points and 7 assists.
In their matchup the following day, the Gauchos struggled even more from the field, yet were more successful from beyond the arc. After shooting 47.3 percent from the field in Friday’s matchup, the Gauchos regressed to 42.6-percent shooting. However, their [3-point percentage increased by over 13 percentage points, as they shot 33.3percent when taking 3-pointers in Saturday’s contest.
In this second matchup between Cal Poly and UCSB, Big West Player of the Year-candidate McLaughlin took a back seat, as he could only score 9 points for his team. McLaughlin finishes his career year with averages of 15.6 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.4 rebounds. Instead of McLaughlin leading the Gauchos to victory on Saturday night, it was forward Amadou Sow who led the way with a season-high 22 points off the bench in UCSB’s 16-point victory. Although Sow started most games for the Gauchos this year, his spot in the starting lineup was taken by senior Robinson Idehen, who was playing in his final regular-season game for UCSB.
After ending the season on a 2-game win streak, the Gauchos will now be playing in Las Vegas for the Big West Conference Championship. Their first game will be a quarterfinals matchup in the Big West Tournament on March 11. The Gauchos will play the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 8 Cal State University, Northridge and No. 9 Long Beach State.