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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 12:11 am | A Few Clouds 49º

Sports: A Noozhawk Partnership with Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, The Lab, and American Riviera Bank

Gauchos Bounce Ball State, 79-52, for 8th-Straight Win

UCSB climbs to No. 6 in Mid-Major poll. Next up: No. 1 North Carolina.

Twelve days off, a long flight to the Midwest and a thick slice of winter couldn’t cool off UCSB’s red-hot men’s basketball team. Neither could winless Ball State, which suffered its worst loss of the season Wednesday in a 79-52 Gauchos romp.

UCSB is currently 10-1, its best start in 19 years, and is ranked sixth in the Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25. But while the harsh Midwestern winter couldn’t stop them, the Gauchos may be heading into an even tougher storm Saturday against the nation’s No. 1 team, North Carolina.

In Muncie, Ind., however, Ball State (0-9) had the Gauchos’ full attention. Within moments, Ivan Elliot drained two quick threes, the defense swarmed and UCSB jumped to an early 12-4 lead that was never in jeopardy.

“It wasn’t a highly inspired effort for us,” head coach Bob Williams noted. “We weren’t jacked up like we are some times. But you’ve got to learn how to play even when you’re not. And we did that tonight. We motivated each other, and that’s what I’m really happy about.”

Chris Devine scored 22 on the night, his season high. He admitted that, as the game began, “there was a little bit missing. But when we got that ball moving, passing inside then back out, making that extra pass, we got some clean shots and took control.”

UCSB led 35-20 at the half, with its signature defensive pressure forcing turnovers and Devine muscling inside for points. In the second half, Devine continued slashing to the rim, receiving great passes from a host of teammates, while Alex Harris maintained his artistic offensive output for a game-high 23.

By game’s end, the 27-point margin was a direct result of UCSB once again delivering its most devastating weapon, three-point shooting.

Against Ball State, the Gauchos went 10 for 15 from beyond the arc. Sharp-shooting freshman Jordan Weiner nailed four of five second-half attempts for his career-high 12 points. Nick Quick drilled another. And Elliott, Harris and James Powell all shot lights out. As a team the Gauchos are 31 for 48 in the last three games from deep. It’s no wonder they’ve won eight in a row.

Williams knows the Gauchos will need to maintain those trends Saturday against North Carolina.

“We need to keep shooting (the three) like we have been lately, or even better," he said. "They are as talented as any team in the country and you can bet they’ll be out there pressuring us hard.

“It’s a win-win situation for us,” said Williams. “For us to test ourselves against the No. 1 team in the country, in that first-class environment, it’s just great. And it will be really cool to bring a team like that to our house next year. It should be phenomenal.”

For his part, the 6-foot-8-inch, 230-pound Devine isn’t a bit ruffled at facing North Carolina, in Chapel Hill.

“We come in every time and go hard. On defense ... we constantly bring it," he said. "And when you look the other guys in the eye before a game, you just know they’re going to be there. You just feel it. I’ve never been on a team like that.”

As for playing against the top team in the country, he added, “Why waste time being intimidated? We want to go out there and fly around and see what we can do.”

Saturday’s game will be televised at 10 a.m. on Fox Sports South network — for those with superb TV connections. Or you can catch the radio broadcast on KTMS 990 AM.

The Gauchos return home Jan. 3 to start Big West Conference play against Long Beach State.

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