UC Santa Barbara’s success is built on a quirky defense


If UC Santa Barbara has any chance against fifth-ranked Ohio State in a first-round NCAA tournament game at Milwaukee on Friday, it might be because of its unusual defense.

It’s a brainteaser — even to some coaches who are used to facing it.

Dan Monson, Long Beach State’s coach, compared it to the annoying way Princeton plays offense.

“You have to make a lot of basketball decisions against that zone that you don’t normally have to make,” he said after losing to the Gauchos in the Big West Conference tournament title game.

OK, so the quirky is-it-man-or-is-it-zone technique won the all-California bus league. But could it really take down the Big Ten Conference champion Buckeyes and probable national player of the year Evan Turner?

“This has become our identity,” Santa Barbara guard Orlando Johnson said. “You don’t know if we’re manning you or in a zone. There are so many different looks to it.”

The defense has been evolving since Coach Bob Williams brought in Danny Yoshikawa as an assistant. Yoshikawa left to become an assistant at San Francisco, but his defense remained, and changed.

“We’ve been playing around with it for a couple years,” Williams said. “It was a switching man-to-man defense at first. Now it’s a zone with certain rotational rules with some man principles and some zone principles.”

Opposing teams shoot 42% overall and 30% on three-pointers in scoring 65.7 points per game.

“If you’re comfortable against it, I think it can be had,” Long Beach’s Monson said of the Gauchos’ defense. “But if they catch the right team and they miss a couple shots early like we did … you know, I mean, that’s what makes it March Madness.”