The UCSB men’s basketball team finds itself in position to gain revenge and remain above .500 against Utah State tonight at 7.
The Gauchos have won eight of their last nine games and are currently in third place in the Big West at 9-5. Santa Barbara has an opportunity to reach or exceed another goal: to win its 10th game in the conference. This would be a huge accomplishment after UCSB started 2-4 in the Big West and sunk fast before finding new energy in its late-season run.
The Aggies, conference champion defenders and favorites to win the tournament again, are standing in the way. USU defeated Santa Barbara 71-48 on Feb. 15.
"They man-handled us the last game," UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. "They moved the ball really well and beat us at every facet of the game. We need to play better in every way possible. … One of the things we have to do is a better job responding [to Utah State]."
One factor the Gauchos know they can rely on is freshman guard Nick Jones, who was named Big West Co-Player of the Week, along with Irvine’s Jerry Green. Jones had 14 points and 11 boards at Cal Poly, and scored a career-high 22 points vs. Pacific – both victories. Jones and the rest of the team will have to grow up in a hurry and find a way to get going against one of the most experienced teams in the Big West. Utah State has won 21 straight games at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum
"The game is going to be a tough one, a battle," sophomore forward Mark Hull said. "Especially for their home games. They might be a little pissed off since they lost the last couple of games. [This game] should be fun."
The Aggies’ most imposing athlete is senior forward Shawn Daniels. Daniels is considered the central component to USU’s offense. The key for UCSB to win the game is to hinder the offense Daniels’ generates through his passing, shooting and presence on floor.
"We’re not going to double him at the beginning," freshman forward Casey Cook said. "If he starts heating up, we’ll double. But the thing is, he’s such a great passer and he hurt us in the last game."
Outside of Daniels, the Gauchos will battle a slew of experienced Aggies, including seniors Curtis Bobb, Dimitri Jorssen and Bernard Rock. Junior Tony Brown, who scored 16 points the last meeting, hurt UCSB on his outside shooting from precision passing from Daniels. The Gauchos complete their final road trip against Boise State on Saturday at 7 p.m.
"We said all along we need to play well in March," freshman center J.J. Todd said. "It’s March now. It’s time to play our best basketball. We have two tough games, and it’s a test to play our best basketball and be ready for the [Big West] Tournament in a week."