John Zant: Slam dunks and blocked hopes for college hoops

UCSB vs USC Basketball

UCSB’s Gabe Vincent gets into the lane with USC’s Jordan McLaughlin on his back. (Presidio Sports Photo)

Three months prior to March Madness, attending a college basketball game last week provided relief from the news of absolute madness in Southern California. A familiar ritual was played out on the regulated sanctuary of the court. Shooting was an art practiced by players launching round balls toward a hoop. A swat team did arrive at the Thunderdome: the tall and agile USC Trojans, who rejected eight UCSB shot attempts. USC’s 75-63 victory prolonged the Gauchos’ frustration against the Pac-12: four losses in four games against teams from that conference.

Despite the blocked shots, UCSB showed better accuracy than the visitors (25-for-59 versus 25-for-64) and made over half of its three-point shots (10-for-19). Consecutive three-pointers by John Green, Eric Childress, and Gabe Vincent reduced an 11-point USC lead to 61-59, but when Michael Bryson sank another three that would have kept the margin at two points, a USC foul away from the ball nullified the basket. That seemed to take the steam out of the Gauchos.

The difference in the final score was USC’s 18-3 advantage in made free throws. In a sport where the home team customarily receives the benefit of the calls, the Gauchos were whistled for 17 fouls and the Trojans just 11 (one of which helped them).

“Outscored by 15 at the foul line,” lamented Bob Williams, UCSB’s 17-year coach. “We’ve got to find a solution.” The Gauchos will be looking for solutions to their fall-quarter final exams this week. Then they will take a 2-4 record into their remaining six December games, all on the road, including one last Pac-12 meeting at Washington.

WOMEN GET ONE: UCSB’s women are 1-8, but their 61-60 victory over Cal State Bakersfield on November 19 wiped away the stigma of last season, when they lost their first 24 games. “Coming into the locker room after a win, that’s the coolest thing,” said Bonnie Henrickson, who came from Kansas this year with the promise of turning the team’s fortunes around — eventually. The way the Gauchos won — erasing an 11-point deficit and winning on Onome Jemerigbe’s driving basket under heavy pressure in the final seconds — showed they have fortitude. They also have a pair of energizing freshmen: guard Coco Miller and forward Kali Jones.

The road to March for both UCSB teams will essentially start in January when Big West Conference play gets underway.

WESTMONT’S WINNING WAYS: Westmont College’s cozy Murchison Gymnasium is home to a pair of the most competitive small-college teams in the nation. The Warriors are members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), which comprises some 180 mostly private colleges and universities, few with enrollments exceeding 2,000. Westmont won the 2013 NAIA Women’s National Championship, and in the 2015 championships, the Warrior men were runners-up, while the women made another Final Four appearance.

Ranked No. 17 on the NAIA preseason poll, Westmont’s men raised their record to 6-2 last Friday by blowing out the Flames of Bethesda, 93-58. Coach John Moore’s Warriors feature a pair of sharpshooting guards: junior Cory Blau and sophomore Jerry Karczewski.

John Zant's column appears each week in the Santa Barbara Independent.

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John Zant’s column appears
each week in the
Santa Barbara Independent

Santa-Barbara-Independent

Kirsten Moore (no relation to John) has high expectations for her No. 5–ranked Westmont women (8-1 through last week). Even though they dominated Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in a 61-53 victory Saturday, the coach said, “We were out of sync today. We struggled offensively.” The defense, though, held the Athenas to 15 points in the first half.

“Our strength is how well balanced we are,” Moore said. Westmont has four regulars who top six feet, including sophomore Lauren McCoy (15 points and 11 rebounds Saturday) and agile junior Aysia Shellmire, and several guards who can handle the ball and shoot. Foremost among them is NAIA All-American Krissy Karr. “She’s our leader,” Moore said. “She has a lot of game sense.” Karr had eight assists and buried four three-point baskets against Claremont.

Adding excitement to the mix is first-year guard Kayla Sato, a 5?8? whirlwind from West Torrance. “She’s an incredible player,” Moore said. It was a coup for Westmont to land her, as she turned down several NCAA Division 1 offers.

“It was the team dynamics that appealed to me,” Sato said. “It was a different feel. These girls care about education. They take care of business in the classroom and on the basketball court.”

A biology major, Sato synthesized some aspirin in a chemistry class and had it in her backpack when the Warriors played at Cal Lutheran. “After they won, the first thing was not about her game, but ‘look at my aspirin,’” said Stanford Sato, her father.

Karr attested to the togetherness of the Westmont women. “We’re relentless fighters,” the senior guard said. “We have a lot of people who want to win.” The veterans bonded during a summer outreach trip to Uganda, and the team held a preseason retreat at the Beverly Hills home of UCLA coach Cori Close, a friend of the program. “We set a lot of goals,” Karr said.

Winning the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC), which includes Vanguard’s No. 3–ranked women and the No. 4 Arizona Christian men, is no small chore. The Warriors hosted Vanguard on Tuesday night this week and will take on Arizona Christian on January 14 in GSAC double-headers (women at 5:30pm and men at 7:30pm).

In community college men’s hoops, the 43rd annual SBCC Classic takes place this weekend (Dec. 10-12). The host Vaqueros (2-6) open against Miramar of San Diego on Thursday at 7 p.m. Other first-round games are Desert-L.A. Valley at 3, Ventura-Palomar at 5, and Oxnard-Canada at 9 p.m.

TERRIFIC TRIO? Sports Illustrated will announce its “Sportsman of the Year” next week. I’d go for a trifecta, the Sportsman-Woman-Steed of the Year: Steph Curry, Carli Lloyd, and American Pharoah.

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