College basketball rivalries are synonymous with rocking gyms, rabid fans and exciting play. Throw in a televised game, and UC Santa Barbara’s match up against rival Cal Poly on Saturday has the ingredients for what has the potential to be an instant classic.
Entering the game with a 6-10 overall mark and 2-3 record in the Big West, a youthful UCSB squad has a chance to show it is one of the elite teams in the conference. Santa Barbara also has a chance to further extend its dominance in this rivalry game, as the Gauchos are in search of their seventh straight victory over Cal Poly.
“[The freshmen] haven’t experienced [this rivalry] like myself and some of the other returners,” junior guard Kyle Boswell said. “It’s exciting, the fans and support and everyone coming out for a big TV game. I think they’ll only get more pumped up when they understand how big it is and how exciting the game is. They’ll be revved up and ready to go when game time comes around.”
Santa Barbara is anchored by sophomore center Alan Williams, the leading rebounder and shot blocker in the conference. Williams is third in the Big West in scoring and is the only player in the conference to average a double-double with 18.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Coming off a weekend road trip in which the Gauchos fell at Pacific before defeating UC Davis, UCSB returns home for a pivotal game only further emphasized because of the Blue-Green rivalry.
“It’s a very important game. I thought it was a must win game at Davis. I am virtually the same way about Cal Poly on Saturday,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We’ve got our backs against the wall; we need to win at home. We can’t afford to lose at all, we have to win.”
Cal Poly enters Saturday’s game with a 7-8 record and 3-2 mark in the Big West. The Mustangs dropped two straight games at Pacific and Davis last week and will try to avoid what would be a season-long three game losing streak.
Junior forward Chris Eversley leads the Mustangs with 15.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for a squad whose focus is on the defensive end. Cal Poly ranks third in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 65.7 points per game compared to the 71.1 allowed by UCSB. The Mustang’s solid defense was best exhibited in their 70-68 victory over UCLA Nov. 25th.
“They’re a good defensive team, very scrappy, very fundamentally sound, real physical,” Coach Williams said. “It’s tough to play against guys who are a little bit quicker and small and physical. I think they might do as good a job as anyone’s done on Al.”
With some of the usual scoring threats for Santa Barbara struggling last week, Big Al exploded for a weekend average of 25 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game.
“The last two performances, Al has been completely dominant in the paint, so they’re going to have to send more than one guy at him to neutralize him,” Boswell said. “I’m always ready to knock down some shots and be open. I’m excited about it because they’re going to have to do something to change how Al has been playing in the last two games.”
Boswell has played a secondary role to Big Al this year and has become
the spark plug off the bench for UCSB. He is tied with freshman forward Taran Brown for second on the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game, and despite starting the game on the bench, is always on the court during crunch time.
Providing a lift in the absence of senior guard Nate Garth has been sophomore guard T.J. Taylor. With Garth’s playing time limited by an ankle injury, Taylor has started the last four games for UCSB, averaging a Big West best 7.4 assists per game in conference games. For the season as a whole, Taylor averages 4.5 points and 3.7 assists per game.
“I’m giving what the team needs. I’m providing a little bit more leadership,” Taylor said. “I started a few games last year, so it’s nothing newtome.IjustwanttogooutthereandgiveitallIhaveformy teammates. I’ve been playing pretty well, but I can pick it up and there’s always room for improvement.”
UCSB holds a 4-2 record at home this season, while Cal Poly is a miserable 2-7 away from home. The Mustangs have not won at Santa Barbara since 2007 and hold a 2-14 record at the Thunderdome since 1994.
“A lot of guys are excited, and it’s a big game,” Boswell said. “We’re trying to get back to .500 in conference, it’s going to be fun.”
Saturday’s Blue-Green rivalry game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. at the Thunderdome. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of January 18th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.