Road trips are always a time for team bonding and as the UCSB men’s basketball team embarks on its longest road trip of the season this week, the Gauchos must attempt to balance the strains of travel and the lure of a new place when they face Hawaii tonight.
Santa Barbara enters the contest tied for first place in the Big West with a 14-6 overall record and 5-2 record in conference play. Hawaii sits in fourth place but only one game behind the Gauchos with a 15-6 overall record and 4-3 mark in the Big West.
“It’s definitely not easy [to travel]. It helps to get here a little early to adapt to the time change and get the jet lag out of our system,” senior guard Kyle Boswell said. “But when it comes to game time we’re going to be ready to play and give 40 minutes of fight. We’ve done it before, so it’s not too big of a disadvantage to come out here.”
The Gauchos enter the game with momentum on their side, winning two home contests last week against UC Irvine and UC Davis in impressive and dominating fashion. The victories propelled UCSB back into first place after a weekend, which saw them fall to Cal State Fullerton and narrowly escape UC Riverside in overtime.
“After the loss to Fullerton it was kind of another wake up for us to realize that if we don’t come ready to play each night, teams that may not have the best record can easily come out here and beat us,” Boswell said.
Leading the Gauchos with a pair of monster performances last weekend was junior center Alan Williams. The big man garnered his fourth Big West Player of the Week Award this season after he averaged 26.5 points, 15 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in the two victories.
Also of importance was the emotional return of sophomore guard John Green on Saturday against Davis. Green played in his first regular season game as a Gaucho after injuries derailed his collegiate career over the past three years. It will certainly be of interest to see how Green progresses and emerges into Santa Barbara’s rotation of wing players including Boswell, sophomore guard Michael Bryson and sophomore forward Taran Brown.
With a return to health for the majority of its lineup and riding two important conference victories, the Gauchos are certainly poised to continue their run as a contender in the Big West.
“It was nice to come out last week and get two solid wins,” Boswell said. “It definitely gives us momentum, and we feel like we can compete with any team in the conference and that we’re the best team in the conference.”
Thursday’s matchup will certainly challenge the Gauchos, however, as the Rainbow Warriors are victorious in four of their past five games. Hawaii boasts an impressive 11-3 home record and leads the conference in scoring with over 82 points per game, over eight points better than the second ranked team.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough game. They got some solid wins in the preseason and they have a lot of talent on their team,” Boswell said. “They’ve got some guards that are really quick and can push the tempo and they’ve also got some big guys that are a force to be reckoned with down low. We’ve just got to come out with a lot of energy like we have the last few games and play hard and let the game come to us.”
Senior forward Christian Standhardinger leads Hawaii in points (17.6) and rebounds (7.6) per game, ranking third and fifth in the conference, respectively. The Rainbow Warriors also tout sophomore forward Isaac Fotu, last season’s Big West Co-Freshman of the Year. Fotu ranks in the top 10 of the conference in both points and rebounds. Junior guard Garrett Nevels also places in the top 10 in Big West scoring, giving the Rainbow Warriors three top scorers.
“It’s going to be really difficult; Standhardinger is an awesome player. He gets to the foul line and is one of the best in our league,” Boswell said. “He’s a force in terms of driving to the basket and creating contact. You can’t completely eliminate a factor like him but if we can keep him contained, and make him work for his points and don’t give him second chance opportunities … I think we’ll have a pretty good shot at taking down the Warriors.”
Tip-off against Hawaii is scheduled for 7 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time at the Stan Sheriff Center.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of Feb. 6th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.