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UCSB is on top of the Big West heading into home showdown against UC Irvine

Late-game fight between UCSB and UC Davis players make headlines but UCSB’s dominance shouldn’t be overlooked

Josh Pierre-Louis is scoring 9.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game this season for the Gauchos.
Courtesy: UCSB athletics

Isla Vista is a town for the young and adventurous. Surfboards cover the surfaces of apartment balconies as students take advantage of their one-block walk to the beach.

Authentic Mexican spices fill the air and the orchestra of party music rings your ears while you watch students adventure from party to party in a tiny neighborhood.

But as tip-off nears, the parties made their way east towards the Thunderdome. In a conference where Big West teams routinely struggle to fill the seats, the Gauchos don’t have that problem.

The Gauchos are putting a fun and entertaining product on the court. The Gauchos fans were treated with a 84-74 win Saturday that displayed the Gauchos dominance.

“When we got here one of the first goals is to have a dominating home court,” UCSB head coach Joe Pasternack said. “Not just when you play rivalry games like Cal Poly, or top teams like UC Irvine, but games like tonight where the student section was able to fill up. We want to continue to build that excitement. We are starting to do that.

The Gauchos’ win wasn’t the biggest headline of the game as tempers flared during the final four minutes to go. After senior forward Andre Kelly blocked a shot and bumped UC Davis guard Ty Johnson, he quickly retaliates. Kelly then wrestled Johnson onto the ground.

UC Davis assistant Coach Metzger-Jones was involved in the brawl. The next day UC Davis issued a statement notifying that they suspended Jones for his involvement. Kelly and Johnson were suspended for a game each.

“I couldn’t see what happened from my vantage point, we will have to watch the film again and see,” Pasternack said. “You never want to see something like that happen.”

OK back to the game itself.

The Gauchos were up double digits early thanks to a pair of Calvin Wishart 3-pointers. The Gauchos coasted from there. The Gauchos shot 61% from the field and had 18 assists on 33 made shots.

Josh Pierre Louis had 18 points and eight assists. Star guard Ajay Mitchell had 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Defensively, the Gauchos held a potent UC Davis offense in check. Big West leading score Elijah Pepper had 30 for the Aggies. When you took away Pepper’s shots, the Aggies shot 31% from the field, and 20 of UC Davis’s points came on free-throws.

This game was a microcosm of how good UCSB can be. The program is known for its sturdy defense, but recently it’s been its now stellar offense. They have always been one of the more efficient teams in the league and now they rank No. 1 in the conference in field goal percentage and 37th nationally shooting 49.8% from the field.

It showcased on Saturday, as UCSB point guard Josh Pierre-Louis hit seven of his first nine shots and is shooting over 51% on the year.

“I try to be a very efficient player,” he said. “I was making the right reeds in the right shots. I also want to find the open shots to my open teammates.”

One of the main propellers for the Gauchos is the emergence of Mitchell.

The sophomore guard from Belgium has built on a very successful season. Mitchell was honored with conference player of the week honors for the second time this season. He helps make this offense run and does it all.

He ranks fourth in the conference in points (15.1), second in assists (4.8), second in field goal percentage (51%), and sixth in steals (1.5). He is the type of star player that can lead his team to win games in March. He does it on both ends of the floor. He makes everyone around him better. That’s what makes the Gauchos go.

The top dog in the conference

The Gauchos sit firmly in first place with a big home matchup looming against UC Irvine Wednesday night.

Last week, UCSB fell to last place CSUN on the road. CSUN was a double-digit home underdog, and it was one of those shocking Quad-4 losses that can send a team into a spin. But that didn’t happen to the Gauchos. UCSB responded beating Long Beach State on the road in a nationally televised game and then dominated UC Davis Saturday.

The Gauchos’ other conference loss came against UC Riverside by a single point at home. After that loss they ran off five straight wins that included two road victories at UCI and Hawaii.

Moving forward

The Gauchos sit on the season at 20-4 and have won 15 out of their last 17 games. A test against UCI on Wednesday will be the biggest test the rest of the season.

The Gauchos rank 23rd in our Other Top 25 poll and they are projected to be a No. 14 seed in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. They have the ingredients to be one of March’s Cinderellas. They play defense, rebound, share the basketball and shoot the ball well.