It’s been quite a season for the U.C. Santa Barbara Gauchos basketball programs.
Both the men and women went the distance in the Big West Championships with the women falling to Hawaii on a game-winning layup. However, the men went toe-to-toe with the reining Big West Champions defeating Cal State Fullerton 72-62 to head to March Madness.
The Gauchos were back on campus Sunday morning as they eagerly awaited their fate watching the NCAA Selection Show to find out who’d they play in the First Round.
The co-regular season champions earned the 14-seed and will play the 3-seed Baylor Bears on Friday, March 17 in Denver, Colorado. The Bears were fourth in the Big 12 this season but more notably were National Champions in 2021. Regardless of their opponent though, UCSB is just thrilled to be back in the tournament.
“Going to the tournament is just a dream for me since I was a little kid," Sophomore Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell said. "I've been dreaming about that and now it's real."
The Gauchos were one of the best teams in the conference led by a myriad of talented, experienced players like senior Miles Norris who earned Second-Team All-Big West honors. This is Norris’s third time reaching the National Tournamen
“ I like to compete. Everyone else on the team likes to compete," Norris stated. "I'm excited to get back to the tournament, hopefully get a win and get a couple of wins, see how far we can go.”
Head Coach Joe Pasternack is no stranger to the tournament as well. Earlier in his career he was the Associate Head Coach at Arizona and more recently, took the Gauchos the the NCAA Tournament where they played Creighton in the opening round losing in a one-point battle, something that only a handful of the currently rostered players experienced.
“I think that they'll both take away what it's like to experience the thrill of victory and the total dismay of defeat,” Pasternack said.
Through the ups and downs of the season, U.C. Santa Barbara finished on a high note. After a three-game losing streak in mid-February, the team bounced back to win seven straight including a Big West Championship and an automatic bid.
“They're really, really so excited and the adversity we overcame this year with injuries, suspension and players leaving," Pasternack mentioned. "It's been an amazing, amazing run the last couple of weeks. “