Times are tough for the UCSB men’s basketball team, but it is still fighting hard without its best player in sophomore center Alan “Big Al” Williams. Santa Barbara, losers of three-straight by an average of fewer than five points per game, will try to rebound on Saturday when they face UC Irvine on the road.
Entering the game with a 8-13 overall record and a 3-6 mark in the Big West, the Gauchos must face a 12-11 Irvine team that is 6-4 in conference play, but 8-1 at home this season.
“I think any road win at this stage is really tough. Everybody is pretty good at home by now,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Let’s wait and see Saturday who we have available, whether or not Al is back, whether or not Keegan is good, whether or not we have Nate and T.J. We have some things up in the air right now, so it either makes things a little more doable or a little more difficult.”
Santa Barbara dropped a 57-55 contest on the road against Long Beach State Wednesday night for its third consecutive loss, all without Big Al. Despite injuries and a young squad, the Gauchos have shown toughness in sticking with opponents, but have not been able to get over a hump with a win.
“The thing I liked the best about what we did at Long Beach was I thought we played really hard and that was a real positive sign,” Coach Williams said. “We were scrappy, tough minded and played hard.”
Irvine is coming off a 52-45 victory against Cal Poly at home to bring its conference home record to 4-0. The Anteaters also feature six players who average 7.7 points or more per game, and are led by senior guard Daman Starring, who averages a team-best 13.5 points per game.
“They are a very deep team and it’s not a matter of any one guy; it’s a different guy for every game,” Coach Williams said. “Starring is a very good player, good shooter and versatile. [Senior center Adam] Folker I think the world of and [senior forward Michael] Wilder is very tough and competitive.”
When the two teams previously played on Jan. 3, UCSB pulled out a 74-71 victory at the Thunderdome, but things may be different this time around at Irvine.
“[Sophomore forward] Will Davis didn’t play against us last time, so that’s a different weapon for them,” Coach Williams said. “There are just a lot of different pieces to their puzzle that make them very difficult to play.”
Big Al’s status for Saturday’s game is in question after missing the previous three games with a strained left hamstring tendon. Williams leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks, and is among the top three in the conference for each category as well.
“He has not practiced at all,” Coach Williams said. “He is doing separate workouts, he’s back running, he’s back doing some lateral work and doing some one-on-one stuff. We’ll see; he’s making progress.”
Junior forward Kyle Boswell has been the Gauchos’ leader since Big Al’s injury and is second on the team in scoring with 13 points per game. Freshman forward Taran Brown is right behind Boswell averaging 12.7 points per game. Brown also ranks second on the team in rebounds and blocks with averages of 5.8 boards and one block per game.
In order to beat Irvine, the Gauchos will need to both provide a scoring boost and limit the Anteaters’ many weapons.
“We have to make more shots and we have to find a way to keep people off the foul line,” Coach Williams said. “The number one thing that has been the consistency in all three games [during the losing streak] is that we’ve got our rear ends kicked from the foul line.”
Tip-off against Irvine Saturday is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Bren Events Center.
A version of this article appeared on page 4 of February 1st, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.