The UCSB men’s basketball team will begin its final road trip of the season tonight when the team heads to face UC Irvine.
“We have got to try to control the tempo of the game,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “[Irvine] is very little and like to play fast and shoot a lot of threes. We will have to match up with them in our big lineup and make our size a factor, not their quickness.”
The Gauchos (13-8 overall, 8-3 Big West) will face the Anteaters (9-16, 5-7) before heading to face Utah State (13-13, 5-6 WAC) on Saturday in a nationally televised ESPNU BracketBuster game. Although not a conference game, the trip to Utah should provide the Gauchos with a good test on the road heading into the home stretch of the season.
“It’s just another test for us,” freshman point guard T.J. Taylor said. “It’s a chance for us to play on the road, and get ready for that next road game at Long Beach. That will be a tough test for us to see how good we are.”
Santa Barbara is coming off a 60-52 win over UC Riverside at home on Saturday. Despite a season-low 23 points in the first half, UCSB rallied for the win in the second half behind 19 points and nine rebounds from senior forward Jaimé Serna.
UCSB beat Irvine handily at home earlier this season 74-56. In that game, the Gaucho scoring was distributed as three players scored in double figures, with none scoring more than 15. Senior guard Orlando Johnson led the way with 15 points, and freshman center Alan Williams pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.
The Gauchos remain tied for second place in the Big West with Cal State Fullerton (16-7, 8-3). The team’s final road game of the season will be against first place Long Beach State (19-6, 12-0) next Wednesday, Feb. 22.
The prolific Gaucho scoring duo of senior guard Orlando Johnson and senior forward James Nunnally continues to climb the UCSB record books. Johnson now has 1,627 points for his career, good for third place all-time. He enters this road stretch needing 70 points to pass Alex Harris (1,698 points from 2004-08) and become the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“They have both had great careers here,” Coach Williams said. “They have scored a ton and been great all around players, plus they are both highly motivated to finish strong. I know they want to go out on a high note this season.”
Nunnally scored 15 points in Saturday’s win over UC Riverside to increase his career total to 1,506 — good for sixth place all-time. Nunnally has scored in double-figures in 20 of 21 games this season, and needs 75 to move into fifth place all-time.
“We are just trying to stay focused on getting these last six wins, and just continuing to play hard,” Nunnally said. “I have had an amazing time [at Santa Barbara] these past four years and I am glad I picked to play at this school. We just want to finish it off right and play hard and get some wins. That’s what it’s all about.”
After being named Big West Player of the Week two weeks ago for his efforts — including 33 points in two games — in road wins over UC Davis and Pacific, Serna has been on fire ever since. While the Gauchos shot a dismal 35 percent from the floor in the team’s win over Riverside, Serna kept the team afloat by hitting 7-of-10 shots. A model of offensive efficiency, Serna currently ranks fifth in the nation with a .664 shooting percentage.
After the three-game road trip, UCSB will return home to the Thunderdome on Feb. 25 for the final three games of the season.