NORTHRIDGE — Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
But doing the same thing over and over produced some insane results for UCSB’s Miles Norris during Tuesday’s basketball game at Cal State Northridge.
The junior forward emerged from a prolonged shooting slump to tie a school record with nine three-pointers in just 10 attempts while scoring a career-high 31 points in the Gauchos’ 72-45 victory at the Matadome.
“I wish I could tell you that I gave him a magic pill, or that I put in a new shooting drill,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “We did the same shooting drills this week that we’ve done for the past four years.
“Coach (Bobby) Knight would always say that the mental to the physical is 4-to-1. The mental is four times more important than the physical. Miles got hot, he felt it, and he kept going.”
Pasternack, whose start in college basketball came at Indiana as Knight’s student manager, reached the 150-win mark with Tuesday’s rout. He’s claimed 96 of those victories during his last five seasons at UCSB.
A three-game losing streak and four COVID-related cancelations, however, had kept him waiting more than a month to get that milestone win. The Gauchos (8-7, 1-2 Big West Conference), who were 0-6 in road games before Tuesday’s triumph, hadn’t won since defeating Idaho State at the Thunderdome on Dec. 22.
Pasternack was just happy to have enough players to field a team. The coronavirus had left him with just seven players and no assistant coaches for a recent practice.
“We had a couple of guys come back today, but it’s just a mess the way college basketball is right now,” he said. “It’s hard to play when you’ve been off that long. How many days has it been since we last played? Eleven?”
The long layoff had left the Gauchos more hungry than rusty. They led 10-0 after barely two minutes. Norris had 10 points all by himself after just over four minutes.
UCSB out-shot the Matadors 55.1% to 30% overall, 57.1% to 30% from three, and outrebounded them 35-26.
“Before the game, I told the guys that our one word is ‘attitude,’ and the attitude we had to have tonight was gratitude,” he said. “I said, ‘Be grateful that we finally get to play a game and don’t take it for granted that we get to play tonight … Play like you don’t know the next time when you’ll get to play.’
“You never know in this world that we live in.”
Norris’ world had entered an ice age this season. His three-point shooting, which had been a toasty 37.8% (31-for-82) last year, had dipped to 22.1% (8-for-38) this season. He’d made just 5-of-25 in the Gauchos’ last nine games.
He made his first nine threes on Tuesday. The referees waved off his 10th make after a review of the video showed that he’d released the ball after the shot clock expired.
“Miles is a great three-point shooter, he just hasn’t been consistent this year,” Pasternack said. “To me, he’s a 40% three-point shooter. We have all the confidence in the world that when he shoots the ball, it’s going in.
“He happened to have a spectacular night. I’ve never been part of a team that had someone go 9-for-10 from three.”
Norris’ only miss came with just 6:22 left in the game. The nine makes tied the school record first set by Brian Johnson against New Mexico State on Feb. 7, 1987 and matched by Michael Bryson at Seattle on Dec. 30, 2015.
“It’s not about changing the shooting drill or anything else,” Pasternack said. “I think it’s just their knowing that, ‘We, as a staff, believe in you … so keep shooting the ball.’”
Ajare Sanni assisted Norris’ first three and then set him up for a dunk with a steal during the first 80 seconds. After Norris drilled another three just 45 seconds later, Sanni fed Amadou Sow for a dunk and a 10-0 lead with 17:55 still left in the first half.
Sow finished with 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting while making his only three-point attempt.
Norris, who made 11-of-13 shots overall, was so revved up that he was called for a technical foul after celebrating his second dunk with 15:42 still left before halftime.
“Our guys don’t like to lose,” Pasternack said. “It hurts the players worse than it hurts the biggest fan in the world because they’re the ones practicing, and lifting weights in the morning, and going to the trainer, and going to class.
“Our guys had a really good week of practice and fought hard tonight, and now we have to keep grinding.”
The Gauchos never trailed, although CSUN (5-13, 1-5) twice made a run at their lead. Elijah Hardy’s back-to-back threes reduced the margin to 14-11.
Norris’ third three got the lead back into double-digits, 26-16. Back-to-back put-backs by Fidelis Okereke, however, triggered a 16-8 run by the Matadors during the last eight minutes of the first half.
CSUN out-rebounded the Gauchos 17-14 in the first half while reclaiming nine of its own misses. The Matadors scored 15 second-chance points during the first half. They scored none in the second half while getting only four more offensive rebounds.
“It’s all we talked about at halftime,” Pasternack said. “My point to our team was, ‘Either you’re going to get a rebound next to your name or they’re going to get one next to theirs. It’s very simple.’”
UCSB needed freshman Cole Anderson to hit consecutive jumpers, including a three, to salvage a 34-32 lead by halftime.
“Cole is an elite shooter,” Pasternack said. “As he gets more comfortable in our system, he’s going to really help us.
“Three-point shooting has been a weakness of ours this year. It might be our worst three-point shooting percentage since we’ve been here. We’re making only two or three a game. Hopefully now we can bust out of that because we have great shooters.”
UCSB made a season-best 12 threes in 21 attempts on Tuesday.
Norris, who ended the first half with his fourth three, made four more during the first three minutes and 10 seconds of the second half to increase the Gauchos’ lead to 48-34.
UCSB had out-scored CSUN 18-2 by the time Sow scored consecutive baskets off pick-and-roll plays with freshman point guard Ajay Mitchell. Although the Gauchos committed 19 turnovers, Mitchell made just one of them while handing out a game-high eight assists.
His playmaking reminded Pasternack of JaQuori McLaughlin, last year’s Big West Player of the Year.
“JaQuori was so comfortable with Amadou,” he said. “He played with him for three years. I thought Ajay really started to read the pick-and-roll well, especially in the second half.
“He’s got so much poise for a freshman, it’s amazing. He doesn’t make a shot but has eight assists to just one turnover. That’s the deal.”
UCSB’s next game is set for Saturday at 9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time at Hawaii (9-5, 4-0), which shares the Big West lead with Cal State Fullerton.
“We have a really tough game in Hawaii — it always is,” Pasternack said. “They’re first place in our league.
“But we’re not there yet. We have to keep getting healthy and get guys back and be ready to have a great week of practice.”