UCSB’s 84-48 thrashing of UC San Diego on Saturday showed that it has Miles to go before it sleeps this basketball season.
The Gauchos, who had lost four of their previous five games, bounced back at the Thunderdome behind Norris’ career-best 32 points to trounce the opponent that had started their downward spiral in an overtime game on Dec. 30.
“The last time we played them, we came up with a loss — and we really weren’t playing hard,” Norris said. “I did really take it personal.
“This game was really personal not only for me but for the whole team. We came out ready to go from the jump, and that’s what helped us win.”
UCSB, 9-9 overall, remains 1-4 in the Big West Conference since the Tritons are still in transition to NCAA Division 1 status. San Diego, 10-12, had rolled into the Thunderdome with a two-game winning streak.
The Gauchos’ only league win came at Cal State Northridge on Jan. 25 when Norris tied a school record by making 9-of-10 three-pointers and scoring 31 points. He scored 21 during Saturday’s first half and wound up making 13-of-16 shots overall — 5-of-7 from three — to surpass his career-best with 32 points.
He’s also been held to single-digits seven times this season. Saturday’s game improved his scoring average to 10.6 per game, second on the team to Amadou Sow’s 15.8.
“Miles is such a spectacular talent, being able to shoot the ball and score the ball,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said of his 6-foot-10 junior. “He has to — and I think he would say this, as well — become consistent. That’s what he’s fighting right now.”
It was more important to Pasternack that Norris keep Tritons’ star Toni Rocak from having a 30-point game. He scored 34 against the Gauchos on Dec. 30.
“Miles really showed up on No. 10,” Pasternack said. “No. 10 scored 30-plus points against us last time at their place, and tonight he had seven points and seven turnovers.
“What I was most proud about with Miles is being able to defend at a high level today.”
The Gauchos made 10 of their first 12 shots. They didn’t pull away, however, until they dug in defensively. The Tritons actually led 8-6 after Rocak’s layup with 16:34 left in the first half.
Sow’s three-point play off a pass from Josh Pierre-Louis put UCSB into the lead. Pierre-Louis then stole the ball while heading back on defense and assisted Robinson Idehen’s fast-break basket. to put San Diego on the run.
Pierre-Louis finished with five steals, seven assists and made 6-of-7 shots to score 12 points — 10 in the first half.
“His ball pressure is something that can really help our team,” Pasternack said. “He did an outstanding job defensively. It fueled us in getting out in transition … We had a lot of transition baskets.”
Norris’ first basket was a three-pointer which capped an 8-0 run, putting the Gauchos ahead 14-8.
“When I’m on, I’m on,” Norris said. “When I start off like that, I always have a good game.
“The biggest thing for me and for the next games coming up is that when my shot’s not falling from the beginning, to play defense and rebound and do whatever I can do to help the team get a win. But it’s always nice when my shot’s falling early.”
UCSB surged to a 46-24 lead by halftime, having out-shot the Tritons 74.1% to 39.1%. The disparity was 63.2% to 37.5% by game’s end. The Gauchos also out-rebounded them 36-20 while limiting them to just eight offensive rebounds.
“I’m just focused on, ‘Can we win the rebounding war — five guys blocking out for the rebound — and defend at an unbelievable level?’” Pasternack said. “It’s not complicated.
“Our biggest weakness right now is giving up offensive rebounds. We were 10th in the league, and then we were ninth after the Irvine game (on Thursday), and now hopefully we’ve moved back up. And we can’t turn the basketball over.”
He said his team actually turned itself around in the second half of the Irvine game. The Gauchos, who lost one of their top front-liners when Robinson Idehen was hit in the head during Thursday’s first half, rallied from a 15-point deficit to lose by just a point, 53-52.
“Our guys battled really hard in the last 20 minutes of the game against Irvine, and battled back, and just came up short,” Pasternack said. “If we have Robinson, the game is in a different place. Ajare (Sanni), too.”
Sanni, a starting guard, remained sidelined on “a day-to-day” basis with a sprained ankle. Idehen, however, returned to the lineup to make all five of his shots and a free throw to score 11 points. He also grabbed six rebounds while backing up Sow, who led all players with seven rebounds.
UCSB also received strong guard play from Ajay Mitchell (10 points) and Calvin Wishart (eight assists). Of the Gauchos’ 36 baskets, 26 were assisted.
They will return to the road next week for games at Cal State Bakersfield on Thursday and Cal Poly on Saturday.
“We’re climbing the mountain right now to get the best possible seed in the conference tournament,” Pasternack said. “All we’re concerned about is getting better, on defense and with our rebounding, and not turning the ball over. Those are my only concerns.”
Norris admitted, however, that the Gauchos had a bounce to their step when they left the court after Saturday’s 36-point win.
“Everyone feels good after a win,” he said. “We’re never satisfied. We’re not satisfied with this win. We’re supposed to keep winning, so we’ve just got to keep going and getting these wins.”