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Crowded stands are becoming a regular sight at the Thunderdome for the UCSB men’s basketball team this season. Another large crowd is expected to rock the Dome Thursday night as UCSB hosts rival Long Beach State at 8 p.m. in an ESPN televised game.
Santa Barbara enters the contest with a 9-5 overall record and 0-1 mark in the Big West, falling in the Blue-Green Rivalry against Cal Poly in front of a season-high 5,982 fans on Saturday to open conference play. This time around, the Gauchos hope to reward a large crowd with a victory over another rival school.
“We didn’t play with an edge against Cal Poly. If we play with an edge we’re a really good team so that’s our message of the week,” junior center Alan Williams said. “It should be a good energy again. Hopefully we can get a crowd out here again and have everybody we had at the last game come back, and hopefully we can play with that edge that we’re known for.”
Big Al paced UCSB with 33 points and 15 rebounds in Saturday’s loss to Cal Poly, but sloppy defense and the inability to hit the outside shot negated Big Al’s outstanding performance. The big man is certainly motivated not to let the Gauchos lose a second straight game in the Thunderdome.
“I know it’s definitely important for me; I haven’t beat them yet so it’d be good to get that first win over Long Beach,” Big Al said. “It’s always been a big rivalry: they’ve always been known to play us really tough and us to play them really tough in return. It should be a lot of exciting play on Thursday.”
Long Beach enters the contest with a 5-11 overall record and 1-1 mark in conference play. The 49ers began Big West play with a narrow loss to UC Irvine on Thursday before handily beating UC Davis on Saturday. Despite sporting a losing record, Long Beach has faced a number of good teams this season, possessing the second strongest non-conference schedule in the nation.
“It’s a great game. Long Beach is a good team. They’ve played a lot of good teams this year,” sophomore guard Michael Bryson said. “Their record doesn’t show how good they are but we know what we need to do coming into this game and we’re going to make sure we come out of this game with a 1-1 record.”
Bryson will face a tough test defensively as he will match up against junior guard Tyler Lamb, a transfer from UCLA in his first year with Long Beach, who has averaged over 18 points per game in his six games of play since becoming eligible in late December.
Other Long Beach players to watch will be junior guard Michael Caffey and senior forward Dan Jennings. Caffey is sixth in the conference averaging 16 points per game, while Jennings is fourth in rebounds with 7.5 boards per game. UCSB junior point guard Zalmico Harmon and Big Al will each face tough assignments against Caffey and Jennings.
“I think [Harmon is] ready to play against Caffey. I think Caffey is a very good player, he does an excellent job,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They also have Jennings who is a great center and Tyler Lamb is one of the best wings in the league. We think Long Beach is one of the top teams in league.”
In order for UCSB to rebound from Saturday’s loss they will need Bryson along with sophomore forward Taran Brown and senior guard Kyle Boswell to hit outside shots. UCSB shot 2-17 in the loss to Cal Poly.
“We put it behind us. We’re a team that we know we can shoot,” Bryson said. “We know that if we get inside to Al and he throws outside to us, he knows we’re going to knock it down for him. We just need to keep the same confidence.”
UCSB has not defeated the 49ers since the 2011 Big West Tournament Championship Game, which sent the Gauchos to the NCAA Tournament. Fans can be sure the Gauchos will bring their A-game on Thursday in hopes of playing in front of another large crowd and a television audience.
“I think it’s vital [when fans show up], especially for a lot of guys, it just gives something to play for and a lot more energy in the crowd so that we don’t have to produce it ourselves,” Big Al said. “We’re going to come out and play with our own intensity and our own energy, but it always helps to have the crowd’s energy and support behind you.”
Thursday’s game against rival Long Beach State is scheduled for 8 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
A version of this article appeared on pages 1 and 6 of January 16, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Cameryn Brock of The Daily Nexus.