The banged-up Gauchos aren’t getting any breaks this season, and things are not going to get any easier.
The UCSB men’s basketball team will take on UCLA tonight at 7:30 in Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins (1-2) dropped out of the national rankings after dropping their last contest, 78-74, to Cal State Northridge last Tuesday. UCLA opened its season by placing third in the coaches vs. cancer IKON classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The team dropped its first game to #4 Kansas 99-98. The Bruins outlasted the then-#12 Kentucky Wildcats 97-92 in overtime to salvage the tournament.
Senior guard Earl Watson leads UCLA in scoring with 18.7 points a game, and sophomore swingman Jason Kapono plugs in 16.3 points and 3.7 rebounds a night.
“We can’t let the game turn into a scramble up and down the court,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We will have to do a great job on defensive rebounds, and we need to keep them off the glass as much as possible. We are going to try to take Watson and Kapono out of the game, forcing other UCLA players to score.”
UCSB fell to BYU 67-53 in its last game before facing the Bruins, and injuries have hurt the team’s success. Freshman forward Branduinn Fullove, who averaged 13 points in his first two games, and senior center Adama Ndiaye will not compete due to injuries. With Ndiaye out for Santa Barbara, 6’11” UCLA junior center Dan Gadzuric, who averages 12 points and eight boards, will be tough to contain in the key.
“I’m still confident in our team,” Williams said. “It’s a matter of getting through this tough stretch of games. Once we win a few games, and when Branduinn gets healthy, I think that we will be fine.”
On a higher note, freshman guard Nick Jones, who suffered a mild ankle injury midway through the second half, is expected to suit up tonight. Sophomore forward Mark Hull scored a career-best 21 points on Saturday and has been playing very well in the young season; his 16 points a game lead the Gauchos. Sophomore point guard B.J. Ward has also been impressive down the stretch in UCSB’s last two games. Senior guard LaRon Bryant is drilling in 13 points a game and senior forward Juliano Jordani averages nearly ten boards per contest. Junior forward Mike Vukovich is also making positive strides at power forward, and he has all six of the team’s blocked shots.
“They have a lot of good players, they have a lot of McDonald’s All-Americans,” Ward said. “We just have to contain the big man [Gadzuric]. Obviously, [Ndiaye’s] hurt, and [Vukovich] is doing his best to fill [Ndiaye’s] shoes. We have to double-team when we have to, and we just have to keep them under control and don’t let them have an outstanding game.”
UCLA holds a 17-0 series record against Santa Barbara. The last meeting was in the 1979-80 season when the Bruins throttled UCSB 102-58. UCLA faced the same two teams the Gauchos played in this year’s exhibition season. The Bruins pummeled Team Concept 118-64, whereas UCSB won by only eight. Both teams, however, played tight matches against the California Southwest All-Stars.
“We need to be more intense and play a lot harder than them because they have a lot of big egos and stuff like that,” sophomore forward Casey Cook said. “So I think that if we come out and play harder than they do, we’ll have a better chance of winning. We’re going to win it on the defensive end.”
The game at Westwood will be televised on Fox Sports Net 2.