After the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team fell to third place in the Big West Conference due to three straight defeats, the squad has since won two straight games against Long Beach State and UC San Diego. With the two wins, the Gauchos are currently in a three-way tie for the Big West regular season crown with two games to go.
In the game that ended the losing streak for the Gauchos, UCSB took on the Long Beach State Beach in the Thunderdome on Feb. 23. With injuries to key players like freshman forward Koat Keat Tong, senior guard Josh Pierre-Louis and graduate guard Ajare Sanni, head coach Joe Pasternack’s squad had eight scholarship players available for their match with the Beach. Even with an undermanned team, the Gauchos were able to hold on and win with a final score of 78-73.
“Our players had an incredible amount of urgency,” said Pasternack after the win. “When you only have eight scholarship players … you kind of look to your right and to your left and you say ‘We’re drowning right now.’ To be able to win in college basketball there is no margin of error and we have a minus-100 margin of error. You just have to have such an incredible amount of urgency in everything you do, every single possession. I thought our guys just did an outstanding job, and I think it’s one of the best wins of the season under the circumstances.”
At the beginning of the game, the Gauchos struggled to stop Long Beach from driving to the basket and scoring, as the Beach shot an efficient 58.6% from the field. By shooting at such a high percentage, Long Beach was able to score 40 first-half points and head to the locker room with a 2-point lead at halftime. While the Beach were still able to shoot at 53.6% in the second half, they were unable to hit any of their 3-point attempts, which allowed UCSB to eventually outpace their opponents.
“They shot 56% tonight, so I don’t know how many stops we actually got,” said Pasternack. “But what I will say is they only got 6 offensive rebounds, and that’s their biggest strength. They are one of the top-five rebounding teams in the country. I thought our guys really really battled for boards. [Senior forward] Miles Norris got seven rebounds. I thought he did a magnificent job rebounding the ball.”
The Gauchos were led by sophomore guards Ajay Mitchell and Cole Anderson, who had 28 and 18 points, respectively. Mitchell added 6 assists and 4 rebounds, while Norris finished with 16 points and 3 assists.
“I just give the credit to my teammates to just keep finding me,” said Anderson. “Obviously I was missing the last game, and I started off kinda rough tonight but I’m gonna keep shooting because that’s what everyone tells me to do and I know I’m a great shooter.”
After the victory, the men’s team traveled to San Diego to take on the UCSD Tritons.The Tritons, who recently transitioned to Division I play, had a signature win one game before their matchup with UCSB: an upset win over the conference-leading UC Irvine Anteaters. However, UCSD could not hold onto the magic for this game as UCSB was able to pull away in the second half to win 87-71.
In the first half of the game, the Gauchos were led by Norris, who went 7 for 7 and 18 first-half points. However, UCSB struggled on the defensive side of the ball, as they entered halftime with only a 4-point lead. The Gauchos shot 56.7% for the half, while the Tritons shot 53.3%.
The second half was a different story for the Gaucho defense, as they held UCSD to only 33.3% shooting while continuing their hot pace. UCSB was able to keep up their pace and did not let up until the final whistle as they outscored their opponents 47-35 in the final half.
In this match, the Gauchos were led by Norris, who finished with 25 points and 4 rebounds, while redshirt senior guard Calvin Wishart flirted with a triple-double by putting up 15 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds.
For their next game, UCSB will stay on the road to take on the UC Davis Aggies. It will be the first meeting between the two teams since an 84-74 UCSB victory on Feb. 11 that saw UCSB graduate forward Andre Kelly and UC Davis sophomore guard Ty Johnson get into a fight with each other, leading to a one-game suspension for each player. The game will be on March 2 and will be able to be streamed on ESPN+.