Upon entering the West Field House on a Wednesday afternoon, the screeching of basketball shoes and bellowing voices fills the air. Following the staircase on the right to the room above, the sound diminishes. In their office upstairs, head coach Gordon Johnson and his assistant sit at their desks, eyes avoiding the large window that overlooks the basketball court. Peering through the window, it becomes evident by the lettering stamped across their practice jerseys that Chapman University’s basketball team is the source of the noise below.
The court, on which both teams practiced Wednesday afternoon, was the setting for a competitive game between UC Santa Cruz and Chapman University Thursday evening.
Having maintained a lead for the entire first half, the Slugs’ control slowly started to slip away after the third quarter. UCSC led 29-27 at the half, but with 11 minutes on the clock, Chapman caught up, tying the game at 42 all. In the final 10 minutes, Chapman stubbornly held a four-point lead, trading baskets with the Slugs. However, Chapman ultimately broke away, turning its four-point lead into a seven-point chase, which proved too much ground for the Slugs to cover in 11 seconds. As the buzzer sounded, Chapman stood victorious, 69-62.
Prior to the game last Thursday night, UCSC’s hopes were high. Senior Ryan Matsuoka, a guard on the team, said the evolution of the UCSC basketball team has been dramatic over the last few years.
“When I began here, we were more of an intramural program,” Matsuoka said. “We have transformed from a walk-on program to a recruited team. The increase in player ability has filled the holes our program had.”
Team guard junior Nathan Mohri agrees.
“Other teams used to think we were a for-sure win, but now they have to compete,” Mohri said.
This was evident Thursday evening as the Banana Slugs gave Chapman a run for its money. The team has improved greatly because of the strong bonds among its teammates.
“Our chemistry as a team has been key to our rise in success,” said point guard senior Darrin Lew.
Coach Johnson said that this is the closest knit group of players he has had while coaching at UCSC and commends seniors Ryan Matsuoka, Greg Palmer and Brandon Sanchez as dynamic leaders.
Prior to the defeat, Johnson said he believed the team had the right mentality to beat its rival. However, though the team has developed and improved, the loss to Chapman may serve as a reality check.
“In order to get to where we want to be as a team, we’ve got to go through Chapman,” Mohri said.
In his office the day before, Johnson also spoke of his desire for the team to break into the upper echelon of teams on the west coast. He said that this is a lofty goal but not an unattainable one.
Although it may take more time for the team to ripen in order to compete with teams in the upper tier, Johnson is here to see the team through.
“Many coaches have had issues with the bureaucracy here and left after a short amount of time,” he said. “However, I hate starting a job without finishing it.”
He has called Santa Cruz home for the last nine years, a feat in “coach time” at the university.
During their Thursday evening game, the Slugs demonstrated that not only can they compete with teams such as Chapman, but they can also maintain control throughout the game.
“I’ve done athletically what I wanted to do,” Johnson said. “Now it’s my job to get these men to where they want to go.”