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College Basketball

UCSB Coasts Past Omaha, Grabs 6th Straight Victory

Gauchos top 2016-17 win total in just nine games, now 7-2 for the season

Max Heidegger of UCSB drives around Daniel Norl of Nebraska-Omaha for two of his game-high 25 points. Click to view larger
Max Heidegger of UCSB drives around Daniel Norl of Nebraska-Omaha for two of his game-high 25 points. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

First-year UCSB men’s basketball head coach Joe Pasternack wasn’t just thankful for his team’s 77-70 home win over University of Nebraska Omaha on Tuesday, he was relieved the team got to play a game at all.

Early in the morning, Pasternack had been informed that power outages caused by the ongoing Thomas Fire in Ventura could force the team to postpone Tuesday’s 7 p.m. tip-off to another day, as other UCSB athletics teams canceled their games.

But the electricity was on, as was UCSB guard Max Heidegger, whose flurry of second-half scoring led the Gauchos to their sixth consecutive victory.

UCSB is now 7-2 for the season, already surpassing than the team’s 6-22 finish during the 2016-17 season.

Omaha, now 1-9 for the year, had nothing to offer at the start, as the Mavericks missed five of their first six attempts and appeared clumsy against UCSB’s aggressive, switch-heavy defense.

Leland King puts up a one-handed shot over Omaha’s Mitch Hahn. King recorded a double-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds. Click to view larger
Leland King puts up a one-handed shot over Omaha’s Mitch Hahn. King recorded a double-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Gaucho forward Leiland King II was active in setting off-ball screens before popping out to create space in the lane. King finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, coupling teammate Jalen Canty’s  25-and-11 output. Canty finished with three blocks to top off his own double-double.

Complacency was the theme of the first half, however, as the Gauchos slowed to 35% shooting from the field and allowed a 12-0 Maverick run near halftime, at which UCSB surprisingly trailed Omaha, 30-29.

Cue the Max Heidegger show — the sophomore kept up his unbelievably hot shooting for the season with a dizzying 8-for-15 display, finishing with a game-high 25 points. He remained physical during the Gauchos’ sluggish stretch, forcing the issue in transition to get high-effort layups. His physical play matched his natural quickness, as the 6-foot-2, 181-pound guard somehow bodied his way to the basket over bigger players.

Heidegger’s best sequence, with just 11 minutes left, broke open the game for UCSB. On the previous possession, Mavericks forward Mitch Hahn had wildly swung into the lane for a resounding dunk to knot the score at 45. Unfazed, Heidegger maneuvered around a high screen to drill a deep, near-NBA-range triple. He then calmly matched up Hahn on the other end, forcing the 6-8 big man into a bricked layup. Not a minute later, Heidegger fiercely drove to the rim for back-to-back layups, converting the latter of the two by getting to the hoop off just one step.

The momentum swung in the direction of the Gauchos, who never looked back, soaring to a 15-point lead before comfortably settling for the 77-70 win. Heidegger remained out of breath after the game, though he did crack a smile when asked about the team’s sixth straight win — after taking the entire 2016-17 campaign to win just as many.

“Coming into the year, we knew we had talent, but we knew people would disrespect us at the beginning,” Heidegger said. “We’re starting to get our respect as we win more and more.”

“Percentages always play themselves out,” Pasternack said about the first-half shooting struggles. “I think we’re the number-one offensive team in the Big West. All those guys missing shots, I think we knew eventually they were going to make them.”

Sophomore guard Gabe Vincent was one of those guys. After starting a miserable 1-for-8, nearly all of them isolated, mid-range attempts, Vincent eased himself into the flow of the night. He buried his last three shots and snagged a pair of assists during the Gauchos’ big 19-7 burst near the end.

Ami Lakoju of the Gauchos goes inside and shoots over Omaha’s Matt Pile. Click to view larger
Ami Lakoju of the Gauchos goes inside and shoots over Omaha’s Matt Pile. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

“In the second-half, Gabe had his best run of the year,” Pasternack said. “Gabe is our heart and soul — he’s the senior leader of this team. We’re just really proud of his grip.”

Noozhawk intern Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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