Gauchos Blow Past Montana State for Seventh Straight Win, 91-69

Ami Lakoju scores on a short jump hook in UCSB's 91-69 win at Montana State on Saturday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Montana State Athletics)
Ami Lakoju scores on a short jump hook in UCSB's 91-69 win at Montana State on Saturday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Montana State Athletics)

BOZEMAN Mont. – On Friday night, UC Santa Barbara's connecting flight from Denver to Bozeman, Mont., was delayed by more than two hours. Instead of wasting their time, the Gaucho players studied for upcoming final exams. Then, just before finally boarding the airplane en route for a Saturday afternoon basketball game at Montana State, the coaching staff put them through a walk-through in an empty area near across from their gate.

Whatever they did worked. Despite arriving at the team hotel after 11:00 p.m. and then playing a game at 2:00 p.m. the next day, UCSB (8-2) rolled to its seventh consecutive win, a decisive 91-69 win over the host Bobcats (6-5). The streak is the team's longest since it had a nine-game winning streak near the end of the 2015-16 campaign.

Leland King II scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds, Gabe Vincent scored a season-high 20 points to go with a game-high six assists and the Gauchos shot a season-best 56.9% in winning for the fourth time away from home. 

"Today's game was a real test," said head coach Joe Pasternack. "We dealt with some adversity but stayed focus. This is a very good road win as we head into final exams."

UCSB had a size advantage on Montana State and on the first possession, they went inside to Jalen Canty, who scored on a power move to give his team a 2-0 lead. After the teams traded baskets over the next several minutes, the Gauchos seized control.

With 13:39 left in the half, Ami Lakoju made a layup to start an 8-0 run. After Lakoju's basket, Max Heidegger made back-to-back three-pointers to push the lead to 16-9 and Santa Barbara never trailed again. 

The Bobcats pulled within 19-18 on a free throw line jumper by Tyler Hall, who finished with a team-high 19 points, but an 11-1 UCSB run that ended with another Heidegger basket extended the lead to double-figures for the first time, 30-19 at the 7:21 mark. 

The Gauchos' lead was still 40-31 at halftime but after a Canty layup made it 42-31, Montana State responded with a 6-0 run of its own to pull within five at 42-37 with 17:18 remaining in the game. 

Once again UCSB had an answer as King and Vincent spearheaded a 7-1 stretch to push the lead back to 49-38. After Harald Frey made a basket, Heidegger scored on a nifty driving layup, was fouled and made a free throw to push the lead back to double-figures for good, 52-40 with 15:19 to play in the game. 

The Gaucho advantage ballooned to 23 twice late in the game and never fell below the 15-point threshold after Canty the score 61-46 on a reverse layup with 11:50 on the clock. 

King, who recorded his fifth consecutive double-double, scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half. He finished the game at 10-of-17 overall and 4-for-5 from three-point range. He hit 7-of-9 shots in the second half, including both of his three-point tries. Vincent was 8-for-14 from the field, including 3-for-6 from outside the three-point stripe. His first three was the 200th of his UCSB career.

"I'm starting to feel like myself," said Vincent, who returned the season-opener after having his left ACL repaired just nine months earlier. "It was a long November, but hopefully today is a step towards getting back to where I want to be." 

Another Gaucho who had his best game of the season was Lakoju. Playing a season-high 21 minutes, the junior made all four of his field goal attempts, including a pair of thunderous slam dunks, finishing with a season-high eight points to go alon with a season-high seven rebounds. Lakoju missed the last 18 games of the 2016-17 season as he dealt with academic issues. He hopes he is starting to get back to where he was last December, before he was forced to the sideline. 

"It's been hard getting back to feeling like I did last year," he said. "The way things have gone that last two games, I think I'm getting there and I'll continue to try to get better-and-better, and more comfortable." 

Despite battling foul trouble, Canty made 5-of-6 field goal attempts while scoring 15 points and collecting five rebounds in his 17 minutes. He and Lakoju combined to score 23 points on 9-of-10 from the field. They also had 12 rebounds in their combined 38 minutes. 

Heidegger, who entered the game seventh in the country in scoring at 23.9 points per game, finished with 19 points and three assists on 8-of-16 overall and 2-of-4 from three-point range.

Both teams were hot in the first half with UCSB shooting 53.1% and the Bobcats hitting 50.0%. But while the Gauchos remained hot in the second half, shooting 60.6% to finish at 56.9%, Montana State went just 10-of-28 to finish at 42.6% for the game. 

UCSB will take the next seven days off for final examinations before returning to action at USC on Sunday, Dec. 17 for a 5:00 p.m. game against the Trojans. That game will be carried on the Pac 12 Network. 

The Gauchos' next home game will be Tuesday, Dec. 19 when they host San Diego Christian in a 7:00 p.m. game at the Thunderdome. Tickets for that and all games can be purchased online here.