Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

UCSB’s Gauchos have not only made it to March Madness for the first time in 10 years, they were given an auspicious No. 12 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament. The Gauchos (22-4) will face No. 5-seeded Creighton (20-8) in a West Region matchup on Saturday, March 20.

The game is scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. tipoff (Pacific time) on the Unity court at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. It will be televised on TruTV.

The 68-team tournament will be played at six sites around Indianapolis. As they have all season, teams will have to pass COVID tests before competing.

UCSB earned its ticket to the “Big Dance” by dominating UC Irvine on Saturday night in the Big West Tournament championship game, 79-63. It was the Gauchos’ 18th win in their last 19 games. Their strong season made an impression on CBS analyst Seth Davis, who said during the NCAA Selection Show that “I like UC Santa Barbara in the Sweet 16.”

No. 12 seeds have historically been known for pulling upsets in the tournament. To reach the Sweet 16, UCSB would also have to get past the winner between No. 4-seeded Virginia and No. 13 Ohio. Gonzaga is the top seed in the West and seeks to become the first undefeated national champion since 1976.

Coach Joe Pasternack, who credited the Gauchos’ laser-like focus in winning the Big West Tournament for the first time since 2011, will not want them getting ahead of themselves.

Irvine was the two-time defending Big West champion and had beaten Santa Barbara twice in December, but the Gauchos took down the Anteaters with a solid performance at both ends of the floor. Senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin, the conference Player of the Year, scored 22 points, and junior forward Miles Norris put up 19.

McLaughlin was named MVP of the tournament. He averaged 20.3 points over three games. Also voted to the all-tournament team were junior forward Amadou Sow, who had a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds against UCI, and sophomore guard Josh Pierre-Louis.

Pierre-Louis came off the bench and scored a career-high 24 points in the tournament opener, as the Gauchos won a 95-87 shootout against a freewheeling Long Beach State team.

UCSB played lockdown defense in the semifinals, a 71-55 win over UC Davis.

“Our guys had an incredible amount of focus these last three days,” Pasternack said after the championship game. “They did a wonderful job tonight.”

The Gauchos have posted four consecutive 20-win seasons since Pasternack, a former Arizona assistant, took over the program. They have accumulated 88 wins in that span.

Creighton has achieved 20 wins in each of the last six seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament in 2017 and 2018. The Bluejays were 24-7 and Big East co-champions last year before the postseason was canceled. They finished second in the Big East during 2020-21 season and lost the conference tournament final to Georgetown, 73-48. They start three seniors and two juniors, all five averaging double figures in scoring, led by All-America guard Marcus Zegarowski.

The Gauchos also have an experienced lineup, starting three senior guards (McLaughlin, Devearl Ramsey, and Brandon Cyrus) along with junior forwards Sow and Norris. Robinson Idehen, another senior, is Sow’s backup. Key roles also have been played by sophomores Pierre-Louis and Ajare Sanni, the Big West’s sixth man of the year.

UCSB has a 1-5 record in NCAA appearances, picking up its lone win over Houston in 1990. Always matched against higher-seeded teams, the Gauchos lost first-rounders in 1988, 2003, 2010, and 2011. 


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