Adorned in blue and gold and located in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, the Warriors’s Kaiser Permanente Arena is a fitting venue to host games for the UC Santa Cruz basketball program and a privilege for the Division III players and coaches who get to experience it.
Despite the energy the Slugs exhibited against the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen (CLU), the Slugs struggled, falling 66-55 in their season opener.
The contest flowed at a steady tempo in the first half, despite a six minute lull during which UCSC and CLU totaled only 10 points combined.
However, the lack of offensive firepower in the first half didn’t cause the Slugs to stray from their game plan.
Consistently voiced by three starters for UCSC — junior forward James Townsend, sophomore guard Matthew Ponce and sophomore guard Jared Ponce — UCSC’s strategy is to always play “inside-out.”
Townsend led the Slugs with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists against CLU.
“Our philosophy is [to play] in the paint and look for open threes,” Townsend said. “We’re just going to pound the paint until they stop us, and if they send two or three [players], we’re going to kick it out for open threes.”
Leading UCSC’s offense as point guard, Matthew Ponce scored 11 points for the Slugs. Although in agreement with second-year coach Ron Dubois’s “inside-out” approach, Matthew Ponce’s teammates couldn’t seem to synchronize.
“Our game plan stayed the same,” Matthew Ponce said. “We just missed shots.”
The Slugs’s inability to “key in on” CLU’s high scorer, Arik Smith, in the second half contributed to the defeat.
“We needed to take [Smith] out of the game, since he was kind of running the show,” Jared Ponce said. “Otherwise, we needed to execute more on defense and offense here and there, and we could have won the game.”
Townsend and Matthew Ponce attributed the widening score margin in the second half of the contest to poor transition defense, which permitted the highest score gap of the game — 58-44, with 5:25 left in the second half.
“We need to play better on defense,” Townsend said. “We were getting beat on transition buckets.”
The game was transitional in two respects, as the Slugs were adjusting to a new setting, and the team succeeding in the transitional facets of the game — going from offense to defense and vice versa — came away with the win.
Fans chanted “U-C-S-C” throughout the game, feeding the Slugs’s relentless spirit in their first game in the new home stadium.
The Slugs cut CLU’s lead to nine points, a three possession difference, with 25 seconds remaining in the game. By then, the Kingsmen already commenced with the typical win tactic of milking the shot clock in order to keep the ball out of UCSC’s possession.
“You can’t win them all, but if we stay together we will win a lot more,” Townsend said. “I’m happy to see we stayed together today.”