In some ways, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos had a similar start to the season as the UCLA Bruins. With 14 minutes left in the second half they were only up four against a Jackson State team which had been blown out by California Baptist until they pulled away. Of course, UCLA never pulled away. but the Long Beach State 49ers are better than the Jackson State Tigers.
That said, that is where the similarities end. UC Santa Barbara is picked second in the Big West. The Gauchos are a relatively experienced team that is returning key players and has a coach who just had his hundredth win with the program.
Senior Center Matt Freeman is a big guy who does not like to play inside and is a three-point threat. He has taken most of his shots in his career from the three-point line hitting around 37%. He may not even play a majority of the minutes but he will be a challenge for a Jalen Hill to cover as he likes to play away from the basket.
The other starting big is the opposite. Sophomore Amadou Sow has tried six threes in his career. That said, he is a force inside and it will be interesting to see what Mick Cronin’s defense does against its first good inside player who went 7 of 7 in his first game. From the UCSB Media Guide:
Amadou Sow had arguably the finest freshman season in UCSB history. Set a freshman record with 391 points and finished second on the team at 12.2 points per game. Also led the team in rebounding at 6.6 per game and his total of 210 boards were the second most by a freshman in school history. Sow was selected Second Team All-Big West following the 2018-19 season.
Alex Olesinski started the first game at four and you have to wonder how he will do against a more talented player. Sow can also draw fouls so it may be a test of UCLA’s depth inside with Hill and Cody Riley also taking turns on Sow. Actually, if the starting lineup is the same as the first game, Alex may be on Freeman with Riley on Sow. It will be a good test for Riley both ways, much better than Long Beach State.
UCSB also has two upperclassmen wings, Max Heidegger and JaQuori McLaughlin. On offense they both like to shoot a lot of threes but can score other ways as well. While Max is more of a shooter, McLaughlin is arguably the MVP, a good defender, able to play point and the glue guy.
UCLA has the athletic ability to stay with these two, but this will be a test on defense. Jules Bernard and Chris Smith started the first game. Smith would likely cover Max, but would McLaughlin be able to take advantage of Bernard? Not just to score but to pass to open looks as others help. Not sure Prince Ali can do much better. On the other side, McLaughlin is the best defender. Can he take away Ali and Bernard on offense? He may be the player to watch in the game for UCSB.
The point guard is Devearl Ramsey. Ramsey is the same size as Campbell. But unlike Campbell, he is a junior who started every game last year. Ramsey hit 41% of his threes last year. Every game is getting a little tougher for Tyger and this will be his biggest test yet. You have to believe Tyger can win this matchup and we would not be surprised if UCSB moves McLaughlin on Tyger. Still, Tyger needs to hold his own on defense and this will be an important long-term match up to watch.
The key bench player is junior Robinson Idehen. Idehen is a 6’10” true center who shot 68% last year and is more of a true inside player. Unlike Sow, he is not able to create his shot but still gives them a legitimate big off the bench.
UC Santa Barbara is not a bad matchup on paper against UCLA, but it is a tough matchup this early in the season. The Gauchos are an experienced team returning most of their starting lineup with legitimate inside and outside threats. UCLA has advantages in depth and home court, but will that be enough? Fans should be patient as UCLA’s offense is a work in progress and the defense is still learning.