If you have a pulse, you know your heart will be pounding for the UCSB men’s basketball team as it shoots for its sixth straight victory.
Santa Barbara now finds itself in the middle of the best winning streak in Coach Bob Williams’ career at the university, and the Big West’s deepest and strongest team, Utah State (21-3, 9-1 in the Big West), is the squad standing in the Gauchos’ way.
"We’re excited to take on the #1 team in our house," sophomore forward Mark Hull said.
Hull has been a staple in UCSB’s offensive attack, setting a career-high for points with 31 against Cal Poly on Saturday. Hull’s presence in the second half against the Mustangs legitimized him as a silent but deadly and consistent player for the Gauchos. Look for Hull to continue playing aggressively: He will slash and find his rhythm before settling for off-balanced jumpers.
Another Gaucho who has played exceptional basketball has been freshman point guard Jacoby Atako. Atako not only scored a career-high 11 points against Cal Poly, but he shut down senior point guard Watende Favors, baffling him into a mere six points and a disqualification. The freshman also hit a key jumper with 4:24 to send his team and crowd into an uproar.
Freshman forward Branduinn Fullove will be counted on to consistently attack the Aggies’ perimeter, forcing them to foul or let him roam free in the lane. Fullove (9-15 treys in current winning streak) is a constant threat anywhere past mid-court; however, the less Santa Barbara utilizes him, the more other players can find their own rhythm.
Freshman guard Nick Jones and Atako will also be called upon during the clutch; the back-court duo combined for 13 points when Cal Poly pulled within two to put the game away.
USU will combat junior forward Mike Vukovich with a tower of its own. Aggie senior forward Shawn Daniels followed in Vukovich’s steps by grabbing Big West Player of the Week honors after shooting 88 percent from the floor in two resounding wins. Vukovich and the help defense must push Daniels away from his comfort zone and agitate him into playing a more controlled game.
"He’s a big guy; there’s no doubt about that," freshman center J.J. Todd said. "We have to throw big bodies against him. We’re just going to have to fight. It’s going to be a war inside."
The Aggies are tied for second for most wins in the country, behind powerhouses Duke and Stanford, and widely considered to be a team well-deserving of being in the Top 25. The 21-3 mark is the best start in school history, and they are still rolling.
"They’re a tough team," senior guard LaRon Bryant said. "What we mainly worked on in practice is our toughness and getting ready [for tonight’s game]."