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Max Heidegger arrives, and other takeaways from UCSB’s opening win

Joe Pasternack’s debut was a good one.

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NCAA Basketball: UC Santa Barbara at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

SANTA BARBARA — The Joe Pasternack era kicked off with an 85-66 win against a visiting North Dakota State team on Saturday.

While the first half of the game was close, the Gauchos used rebounding adjustments and a career night from sophomore guard Max Heidegger to pull away from the Bison early in the second half. The sophomore — who was playing backup point guard, as Rice transfer Marcus Jackson injured his hip on Wednesday — set a new career high with 33 points.

Here are a few of our takeaways from the Gauchos’ first win of the season.

Max Heidegger looks poised for a breakout

Thrust into the starting point guard spot due to Jackson’s hip injury, Heidegger didn’t expect the first game of his sophomore season to turn out the way it did.

The sophomore guard had 17 first half points and tied a career high with four made threes — all while running the offense.Two possessions into the second half, Heidegger curled off a screen and nailed a three from past the right elbow, setting the career high.

But he wasn’t done. Heidegger finished with 33 points on 10-for-19 shooting, including 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. His eight three-pointers in a single game was the second-best shooting performance in school history.

“I didn’t think I was going to shoot like this,” Heidegger said after the game, “But I was feeling it, so I kept shooting.”

Pasternack cited Heidegger’s work during the offseason as the key to his career performance.

“Max is a great example of someone who’s honored the process every single day in the offseason,” Pasternack said, “[During the offseason] he was getting up 500 to 1,000 shots a day, and he’s worked on his body. I was waiting to see what would happen in gametime. Today he performed like he’s performed every single day. He competes. He’s an incredible young man who deserves the success he’s had today.”

As a team, the Gauchos connected on 12 of their 22 three-point attempts, good for a 54.5 percent clip. The Bison, on the other hand, were 7-for-23 (30.4 percent).

Keep an eye on Leland King, too

Former Nevada (via Brown) transfer Leland King II is one of the most versatile newcomers in the Big West. The graduate transfer’s 23 points and nine rebounds were well north of his career averages of 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He also went 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, thanks to his quickness and his ability to create separation off screens.

With his combination of size and mobility, King will be able to spread the floor and create mismatches in Big West play.

“Coach [Pasternack] gives us a lot of freedom, and I’m confident that I can spread [the offense] out,” King said, “I know what I’m going to do. Going out there and being able to do [what I do] and help out the team has been great. I want to showcase what I can do.”

“Leland is an excellent player,” Pasternack said, “I think he can be a double-double type guy.”

The Gauchos’ success hinges on rebounding

The Gauchos were up 40-31 going into the half, but they were losing the battle on the glass. Despite facing UCSB’s deeper front court, the Bison were using the offensive glass to extend possessions and stay in the game.

“[The second half] was all about defense and rebounding,” senior guard Gabe Vincent said of the second-half resurgence, “We were [outrebounded] 18-15 at the half, and we knew we had to make adjustments there and on defense going into the second half.”

Before Pasternack was able to make said halftime adjustments, King sparked the resurgence amongst the players.

“I was one of the first ones to say we’ve gotta rebound,” King said, “It was a nine point game at the half, but we knew they had twelve points on offensive rebounds. So we wanted to make sure we were controlling the boards.”

Thanks to those adjustments, UCSB out-rebounded North Dakota State by a 36-29 margin. The Bison had one offensive rebound in the second half.

“We said winning the rebounding war was going to be a huge key for us,” Pasternak said, “Early on, they were dominating the boards. And we kept chipping away.”

Rebounding will be the key for the Gauchos’ success if they want to supplant Big West leaders UC Irvine and UC Davis. The Anteaters were top 100 nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last season per KenPom, while UC Davis boasts the conference’s best rebounder in Chima Moneke.

Pasternack has high praise for North Dakota State

Although the Bison fell apart in the second half, Pasternack thinks they are one of the better teams — if not the best team — in the Summit League.

“North Dakota State’s team is so well coached and so disciplined,” Pasternack said, “It was going to take an incredible defensive effort from us [to win].”

The Bison were picked third in the Summit League media poll and fourth in our power rankings. They were expected to lose 71-70, per KenPom’s pregame projections.

“They are an NCAA Tournament team,” Pasternack said, “I think they’re the best team in [the Summit League]; they’ve gone to the NCAA tournament in two of the past four years. They have Paul Miller, who will be one of the best players in that league. I think our guys did a wonderful job of locking in on the game plan and competing every play and really doing what we do.”

UCSB’s next game will be at Pittsburgh on Nov. 15.

North Dakota State, meanwhile, has a quick turnaround. The Bison travel south on the 101 freeway to face USC on Nov. 13.