This is the final home stretch… it’s crunch time… this game’s going down to the wire. The final seconds of a season tick away and the moment is yours to mold. And we’re still in February.
The Big West Tournament must be near.
Players must have ice circulating in their veins or the pressure of the postseason will cook them alive faster than a tomato-colored lobster in boiling water. The moment of victory wafts through a stuffy gym – juicy, succulent and brilliantly fresh. And it’s there for the UCSB men’s basketball team to seize.
Four more regular-season games remain on Santa Barbara’s shopping list. The Gauchos will bank on tallying four more victories, yet they will need more than ice on their sore knees – or in their blood.
UCSB needs a frenzied desire, insatiable hunger and relentless motivation to win its first-ever Big West regular season title. The Gauchos want to win? They need to.
The Gauchos need to be greedy about not sharing the league crown, according to UCSB Assistant Coach Marty Wilson.
UCSB is unwilling to share a crown with Utah State or Irvine. A tie translates into nuclear meltdown on the planetary scale for this bunch.
If Santa Barbara (13-12, 10-4 in the Big West) sweeps its two home games this week against Long Beach State on Thursday at 5 p.m. and Irvine on Saturday, and splits the final road obstacles, Riverside or Fullerton, then UCSB will head into Anaheim with the number one seed. And if Santa Barbara wins four straight games, nothing would send a stronger message to the conference heading into the tourney.
One more vital piece of machinery needs to mesh back into place, however.
Senior forward Mark Hull, the top three-point rifleman and second all-time leading scorer at UCSB, needs to wake up from his horrendous shooting slump.
For a player who scored a career-high 32 points against Arizona last March in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Albuquerque, Hull has not turned the gas on high all season, scoring 20-plus points only four times in 2002-03.
In the last five games, Hull has hit a ghastly 5-30 three point shots, 16.7 percent. For a guy with 206 career threes, that’s not a slump, that’s digging your own grave with a bulldozer.
But Hull can and must turn the gas all the way up.
In practice on Tuesday, Hull continually drove to the hoop every chance he got. During a shell drill, Hull found a crease and took two dribbles before elevating for a ferocious one-handed jam that drew clapping from teammates and a slap on the back from junior guard Branduinn Fullove.
Hull walked off the court with a little bit of a smile creeping on his face, sensing how close the moment – March Madness – was to his nostrils, sticking on his jersey, evaporating on his breath. Four games to go. That’s it.
Think Mark Hull is ready to win? Just be at the Thunderdome at 5 p.m. this Thursday to find out.