The UCSB men’s basketball team is looking at one of its biggest tests so far this conference season as it gets set to take on Hawaii.

The Rainbow Warriors just recently lost their first place position in the Big West and have now dropped to third with a 4-2 conference record. UCSB continues its ascent of the standings where it currently sits tied for first place at 5-2 with UC Davis.

Hawaii comes into the matchup with one of the best overall records in the conference, at 13-6 they’re second only to UCSB’s incredible 16-5 start to the season, and they’re one of two teams in the Big West that can say they have beaten these Gauchos this year.

The Rainbow Warriors were able to come away with a 77-76 victory last time these two teams played in Honolulu, and one of the big differences in the game was the contrast in bench production for both of these teams.

In the matchup between these two teams two weeks ago, the Gaucho bench was outscored 16-6 by Hawaii. This season UCSB’s starters have scored 1,406 out of 1,623 total points, which has led to success so far but can lead to some stagnation on offense when players like Max Heidegger or Leland King II need to rest.

Max Heidegger reaches past the defense toward the hoop. Dustin Harris/Daily Nexus

Heidegger’s 21 points per game leads the conference in scoring while King II’s 15.5 points per game are second on the team.

This was evident last time these teams played, as it was an uphill battle the whole game for UCSB. Each run the Gauchos made with their best weapons on the court was undone when they went to the bench, and ultimately they weren’t able to make a full comeback.

One of the keys for Coach Pasternack going into Thursday night and, for the rest of the season, will be getting more from his bench and finding a way to make sure that the stars aren’t too worn down going into the postseason.

Another key for UCSB will be staying perfect at home this year, which they have managed to do for a while sporting a 9-0 record at the Thunderdome so far.

The Gauchos are one win away from matching their best ever home start which was 10-0 done by the 1989-90 squad, which is a complete turnaround from their 5-8 home record last year.

Coach Pasternack talked about the importance of building a strong home base in the beginning of the season, and the team’s great performances so far have given the UCSB community a lot to be excited about.

Attendance has been great as of late, and if the Gauchos can continue their dominance we may be seeing an even bigger cultural shift on campus in terms of regaining pride in SB as a basketball school.

A couple players to watch for on Hawaii are redshirt freshman guard Drew Buggs and senior forward Mike Thomas. Buggs is a quick yet high IQ guard that leads the Rainbow Warriors in both assists (3.8 per game) and steals (1.6).

While he only scored nine points last time these teams met, he is a big part of the offensive gameplan for Hawaii, so it will be important for the Gauchos to limit him as a distributor.

Thomas is a much more straightforward down-low player, yet has shown how efficient he can be a scorer. He scores more per game than any other player on Hawaii averaging 11.3 points per contest, yet doesn’t take the most shots.

His battle with Jalen Canty and Leland King down on the boards will be pivotal to how much success the Rainbow Warriors have on offense, and he will also have to play a huge role in producing on the offensive end for Hawaii as well.

The Gauchos have a lot riding on this game, and they’re aware that a chance to move up to first in the Big West and tie the best home start to the season ever doesn’t come around too often.

The Rainbow Warriors know that they can compete with UCSB, and won’t go down easy, but it’s going to be up to the Gauchos to use their talent and the home crowd to come out with a win.

Santa Barbara takes on Hawaii at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 1st at the Thunderdome.

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