By Jack Calhoun
City on a Hill Press Reporter
It was a tough and tiring weekend, but the UC Santa Cruz men’s basketball team was happy to be home, hosting three games in its newly renovated West Field House gym.
For all of last year, the Slugs’ home gym was closed in order to complete a retrofit, which updated the building to current codes and standards. The closure forced the Slugs to play all 27 of their games on the road and travel several miles away from campus to a smaller gym multiple times per week to practice. Now that the gym is done, the team is thankful to finally have a place to call home again and is trying desperately to regain its footing.
“Being away for so long builds character,” sophomore captain Ryan Matsuoka said. “It’s nice to play at home. It really gives us a sense of pride, and the increased fan turnout boosts our confidence.”
The Slugs played through an intense weekend, going 1-2 in games against the University of Dallas, La Sierra and Chapman with UCSC fans filling the stands each day to show their support.
“It’s a blessing,” head coach Gordon Johnson said. “It makes a big difference having a home crowd. The audience [is] very supportive. It really helps out a lot to have them cheering you on.”
The Slugs started off the weekend with an agonizing match-up against the University of Dallas on Friday night. After coming from behind and tying up the game at 55 with only 35 seconds to go, Dallas clinched the game with two penalty shots, ending it with a score of 57-55.
The following evening, the Slugs managed to emerge with a 93-74 win over Riverside’s La Sierra University, a game that was defined by its physical clashes for the ball. The sound of the whistle blowing was all too common that night as the referee attempted to control the throwing of elbows and battles that knocked some players into the stands and others flying out the emergency exit. The Slugs’ ability to steal and intercept passes won them the game by a large 19-point margin.
On Sunday afternoon the Slugs entered their third and final game of the weekend to take on Chapman. It was clear that exhaustion from the two previous games had taken its toll on the Slugs’ defense, and they failed to stop the Panthers’ hungry offense. Though they bounced back in the second half, the Slugs fell short, with a final score of 81-71.
Though the Slugs were down about their losses, they certainly weren’t out.
“We’ve grown a lot since last year,” Johnson said. “We’ve gotten a lot better. We’re at the point where we are at least competitive with these other teams. Had we played some of these teams last year, we would’ve lost by 10, maybe even 20 points more.”
It wasn’t their best performance to date, but the Slugs were proud to see the improvement they have made since last season.
“These last three games have been shaky,” Matsuoka said. “Although we missed a lot of shots, we’ve been playing hard, and we’ve been playing better. The players put a lot of time and work into the offseason, and it really paid off — everyone on the team has stepped up their game individually.”
Despite a 7-12 overall record so far this season, with a new gym and training mentality, the Slugs are looking to shake off the losses and finish up the season with a few more wins on the record.
“I’m really proud of the way we came back and did better,” junior Eric Norton said. “Making the [playoffs] will be a bit of a stretch, but if we play the way we should, there’s no reason we shouldn’t win every game we have left.”