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Home sweet home.
In yet another televised game, the UCSB men’s basketball team will host UC Riverside on Saturday night in its first home game in three weeks. Santa Barbara is 3-1 at home in conference play this season, versus 4-2 on the road.
“It’s great to be home,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “It’s been a really good week of practice for us and we are excited about playing at home in another opportunity to be on national television.”
The Gauchos (12-8 overall, 7-3 Big West) will return to the Thunderdome after going 3-1 on a road trip. With a week off to practice and recover, UCSB looks forward to the opportunity to avenge a loss at Riverside (11-12, 5-5) earlier this year. In that game on Jan. 12, the Gauchos lost to the Highlanders 79-70 in overtime.
“It’s a big game,” senior forward/guard Christian Peterson said. “From here on out we have to win out because we want that second seed in the Big West tournament. Each game becomes more and more important, especially coming off a loss.”
UCSB’s lone loss on the road trip was against Cal State Fullerton (15-7, 7-3) on Saturday. Fullerton was on fire offensively in the team’s win over the Gauchos, shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and a blistering 65.4 percent on three-pointers.
“We played a team that got really hot,” coach Williams said. “I told (the players) to keep their head up and don’t let this game cause a hangover. We played well on the road trip and had been getting better.”
In that loss, two prolific Gauchos reached career milestones. With 28 points in the game, senior guard Orlando Johnson moved into third place all-time in the UCSB record books, becoming the fourth Gaucho ever to reach 1,600 career points. With at least eight games remaining, Johnson has a firm chance at becoming UCSB’s all-time leading scorer. In the same game, senior guard James Nunnally poured in 19 points, increasing his career scoring total to 1,491 — good for sixth place all-time.
The loss to Fullerton dropped the Gauchos into a tie with the Titans for second place in the Big West, behind only first-place Long Beach State (17-6, 10-0). Santa Barbara lost to Long Beach at home earlier this season, but will get a chance for revenge when the team travels to face the 49ers on Feb. 22.
UCSB has already played in three televised games, going 0-3 in those contests. The Gauchos have three more games planned for national TV — an ESPNU BracketBuster matchup at Utah State on Feb. 18, the Long Beach State game on ESPN2, and a Feb. 25 home game against Cal Poly on ESPNU.
“I don’t know if it pumps us up or not — we are kind of oblivious to it to be honest,” Coach Williams said of playing on the national stage. “We need to play our best basketball, and we are disappointed that we have not played particularly well on national television.”
“It brings more people out to the games which is fun,” freshman center Alan Williams said of playing on the national stage. “With more fans in the seats, we feed off that energy and noise.”
After the Riverside game this Saturday, the Gauchos will once again hit the road for a three-game road trip. After the road trip, the team will finish off its Big West season with three straight games at home.
Tip-off for Saturday is at 7:30 p.m. The game is televised on Prime Ticket.