Senior guard Orlando Johnson needs just three points to become UCSB’s all-time leading scorer as the third-place men’s basketball team is set to host Cal Poly in a nationally-televised Saturday night matchup.
UCSB (15-9 overall, 9-4 Big West) is coming off a lopsided loss at Long Beach (20-7, 13-0) on Wednesday night. Cal Poly (15-13, 6-7) currently sits in fourth place in conference and is coming off two consecutive road losses at Cal State Northridge and Northern Colorado.
“The key for us is execution,” senior forward Christian Peterson said. “They will come in here with a chip on their shoulders pumped up for the rivalry game … we just have to come out and match their intensity and play our game.”
The first meeting between the rival schools took place on Jan. 2 in Santa Barbara’s Big West opener. The Gauchos traveled to Cal Poly, and barely escaped with a narrow 58-57 victory. Down by two with less than 10 seconds left in the game, a bouncing three-pointer from Johnson fell through the net with just under five seconds left. Senior forward David Hanson had a shot at the buzzer for the Mustangs, but couldn’t convert and UCSB took the victory. The win was the 223rd of Head Coach Bob Williams’ career, good for first place in school history.
The 49ers opened up an early lead over the Gauchos in Long Beach on Wednesday night and never looked back, leading for nearly the entire game on their way to a 70-58 victory. 20 turnovers, including 12 in the first half, plagued the Gauchos and led to 23 Long Beach points. Missed free throws also hurt Santa Barbara. The team missed nine free throws in the game, hitting only 14-of-25 (56 percent) from the charity stripe.
“The turnovers were huge,” Peterson said. “We didn’t really execute too well when we had chances to cut into their lead. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”
Johnson scored a game-high 20 points to bring his career total to 1,694, only two behind first-place Alex Harris (1,696 points from 2004-08). What’s even more impressive for Johnson is that he has only played three full seasons in a UCSB uniform, after transferring from Loyola Marymount after his freshman season.
With the win, Long Beach clinched a second consecutive Big West regular season title and will enter the Big West Tournament as the No. 1 seed. UCSB is currently the third seed, behind second place Cal State Fullerton.
This game will be the first in a three-game homestand to finish off the season for the Gauchos. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on ESPNU.
“It feels so good to be home, it seems like we have been on the road non-stop lately,” Peterson said. “Hopefully we can finish off the season strong and get a good seed heading into the Big West Tournament.”