Gaucho Basketball Flies High

But Recent Losses Bring Reality Check

The public came to the Thunderdome last week to watch UCSB basketball games for the first time since March 2020. The Gaucho women had fans squirming in the new chair-back seats, while the men’s team attracted students with a hamburger giveaway and kept them standing and cheering a highlight show. Here’s how it went down.

JPL Takes Flight: The Gaucho men’s 119-65 blowout of San Francisco State might have been boring except for the coming-out-and-up party of Josh Pierre-Louis. The 6′4″ junior was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half, as he scored 22 points, many of them on high-flying dunks. He finished the game with 25 points and four assists on passes that also had a creative touch. 

“The best athlete I’ve ever coached,” gushed Joe Pasternack, UCSB’s fourth-year coach, who had previous stops at Arizona and Cal.

Pierre-Louis said it’s his role to energize the Gauchos. “They call me Magneto,” he said, referring to a superhuman Marvel Comics character.

We Have Liftoff: Josh Pierre-Louis slams another dunk. | Credit: Gary Kim

I prefer the nickname JPL (as in Jet Propulsion Laboratory), which I coined a year ago when I first saw the Temple transfer blast off above the rim. His game may remind longtime hoop fans of the Skywalker, a k a David Thompson, the 6′4″ North Carolina State/Denver Nuggets star who danced in the air.

UCSB’s senior forward Amadou Sow, a three-time All-Big West performer, also scored 25 points. All 13 Gauchos scored against the Division 2 Gators, including freshman guard Max Sheldon, a walk-on from San Marcos High.

On Monday night, an arduous road trip brought the Gauchos down to earth. The Washington State Cougars, a high-level Division 1 team, built a 23-point lead in the first half and cruised to a 73-65 victory. JPL made just one basket in seven attempts. The 6′9″ Sow had a solid double-double (25 points, 11 rebounds) and helped UCSB make the final score respectable.

The Cougars posted their 16th consecutive non-conference victory and are expected to make some noise in the Pac-12. They are looking for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008, when Santa Barbara’s Taylor Rochestie was their outstanding point guard.

The Gauchos made it to the NCAAs last season, and a one-point loss to Creighton left them hankering for another shot. It will all come down to March, when they take the floor at the Big West Tournament as defending champions.

With Pullman, Wash., in their rearview mirror, the next month is about polishing their game, piling up wins and building momentum. UCSB’s next five games are at the Thunderdome, beginning Saturday at 1 p.m. against Chicago State. 

Miller Time: Danae Miller is a five-year starter for the UCSB women’s team. The 5′7″ guard out of Long Beach Poly took the NCAA’s reward of extra eligibility after the COVID year.

Miller brings “poise and composure” to the team, coach Bonnie Henrickson said, and the Gaucho women needed her in their opener, a see-saw battle against Loyola Marymount. There were 12 lead changes in the game, and Miller affected the last one by drilling a three-point shot with just over a minute to play, putting UCSB ahead 60-58. She later made a free throw, her team-leading 18th point, and the Gauchos won, 61-58.

All eyes were on Ila Lane in the opening minutes. The 6′4″ UCSB center was playing her first game since March 2020, when she was named Big West Freshman of the Year after leading the nation in rebounding. Lane sat out the entire 2020-21 season, and the rust showed when she badly missed her first three shots.

But it was a familiar sight when Lane ran down loose balls. “Her effort never fails,” Henrickson said. She finished the game with10 rebounds and eight points.

Like the Gaucho men, the women followed their opener with a long road trip to Evanston, Ill., where they faced Northwestern, a tough Big 10 team. The Wildcats made sure they would not get into a clutch shooting contest, roaring out to a 21-4 lead after the first quarter. UCSB played them fairly even the rest of the way, ending in a 72-46 defeat.

Lane got her rebounds (11) and scored on her first touch of the game, but that spelled trouble. “We started forcing the ball in and threw it to [Northwestern],” Henrickson said. “Nine turnovers in the first quarter. We have to do better passing the ball into the post.”

Junior guard Alexis Tucker, a transfer from Texas Tech, led UCSB with 14 points. 

The Gaucho women stay on the road Saturday at Pepperdine. Their next home game will be December 2, against Denver.

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Strong Starts: The men’s and women’s basketball teams at Westmont College are a combined 10-0 and will face The Master’s in their first Golden State Athletic Conference double-header on Saturday evening. The Warrior women are defending NAIA champions and ranked No. 1 on the preseason poll. SBCC is winning in hoops too; the Vaquero men (3-1) have tripled their number of wins in the past two years (a 1-25 record in 2019-20 and no games the following season).

Duke-or-Die: No. 7–seeded Duke has a bye into the second round of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament. On Sunday, the Blue Devils will host the winner of Thursday night’s UCSB-UCLA tussle in Westwood. Do not assume they’d rather play the Gauchos. UCSB has a 4-0 all-time record against Duke. If they get past the Bruins, the Gauchos will loom as an extremely dangerous opponent. “This group of players has a chance to go deep in the tournament,” said sophomore Finn Ballard McBride, who has scored a team-high nine goals while 11 other Gauchos have cracked the scoring column.

In other postseason soccer, Westmont College prevailed in a pair of penalty-kick shootouts to win the GSAC women’s championship and could reach the NAIA national tournament by winning opening-round matches on its home pitch Thursday and Saturday.

Football Weekend: Friday night lights will be blazing for Cate School’s Rams and SBCC’s Vaqueros. Cate has reached the CIF 8-Man Division 1 football championship game for the first time and will kick off against Grace Brethren at 7 p.m. at Carpinteria High’s Memorial Stadium. SBCC’s Vaqueros, coming off a 52-7 victory over Santa Monica, will host Orange Coast College in their regular-season finale at 5 p.m. at La Playa Stadium.

Sam “Bam” Cunningham will be remembered in a public tribute at 11 a.m. Saturday at Santa Barbara High’s Peabody Stadium, where he launched a football career that would take him to USC — and with the Trojans, famously, to Alabama — and the New England Patriots.

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