SAN LUIS OBISPO – JaQuori McLaughlin scored 15 points and Amadou Sow had 13, and UC Santa Barbara led from start to finish in its Big West Conference opener on Wednesday night at Cal Poly, winning 63-45.
The Gauchos (12-4 overall, 1-0 Big West), winners of six straight and 11 of their last 12 games, were outstanding on the defensive end, limiting the Mustangs (3-12, 0-1) to 28.3% shooting for the game, and 22.7% in the second half. The percentage and the 45 points for the game were the worst by an opponent this season.
“This was the best defensive game we’ve played this year,” said head coach Joe Pasternack. “We were quick to get to the ball and didn’t give up too many open shots, especially in the second half.”
In addition to limiting Cal Poly to poor shooting, UCSB had a season-high nine steals, including four from Devearl Ramsey, tying his career-high, and three from McLaughlin.
“We’ve got to have that defensive identity,” Ramsey said. “Offense will come and go. Sometimes you’re going to miss shots and can’t control if the ball goes in, but you can control how hard you play on defense and the effort you give.”
Ramsey also added a career-best and game-high eight rebounds to go along with six points. As a team, the Gauchos won for the 11th time in 13 games when they outrebound an opponent. On Wednesday they had a 31-29 advantage.
“That was huge,” Pasternack said. “Rebounds are our identity. We have to continue that, defending and rebounding at that level – especially on the road in conference.”
Santa Barbara jumped out to a 4-0 lead and, for the second straight game, never trailed. The Mustangs kept the game within reach, trailing just 36-28 at halftime, but the Gauchos pushed the advantage to double-figures for good, 43-32, when McLaughlin made his second of three three-point baskets with 16:09 to play.
Matt Freeman made a pair of free throws at the 9:22 mark to make the score 54-40, but both teams went stagnant at that point, going scoreless for more than four minutes. The drought was broken when Sow made his eighth three-point basket of the season with 5:17 remaining.
After another defensive stop, Sow was fouled while going to the basket and made both free throws to give UCSB its largest lead of the game, 59-40 with 3:27 to play. The Gauchos cruised the rest of the way.
In sticking with a defensive theme in the game, Robinson Idehen, who played a career-high 20:08, blocked a career-high four shots while also scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds.
“I know my role is to be active, to contest shots and to rebounds,” Idehen said. “When my team needs me, I need to step-up.”
Brandon Cyrus made 4-of-5 field goal attempts to finish with eight points. Freeman added eight and both Cyrus and Freeman had four rebounds. Sékou Touré chipped in six points as well as one steal.
As a team, the Gauchos were solid offensively as they made 51.1% of their shots, including 60.9% in the first half. They also drained 7-of-14 three-point attempts, 50.0%, their second best long-distancing performance of the season.
Colby Rogers paced Cal Poly with 16 points on 5-of-9 from the field overall and 4-for-7 from three-point range. Malek Harwell added 11 points.
UCSB has now won 12 of its last 13 games against its Blue-Green rival from the Central Coast.
The Gauchos will play their first Big West Conference home game on Saturday when they host another rival, Long Beach State, in a game that will tip-off at 7:00 p.m. at the Thunderdome.