The UCSB men’s basketball team finds itself in the position to maintain its fourth-place standing in the Big West and sweep the season series from conference rival Cal Poly during tonight’s battle at 7 with the Mustangs at Mott Gym.
The Gauchos (11-12, 7-5 in the Big West) will also try to reach .500, and if they can defeat Pacific Saturday at 3 p.m., the team may have an opportunity to go over .500.
Yet Cal Poly stands in Santa Barbara’s way, and the team plans to come out determined while trying to exact revenge against UCSB. The Gauchos won the previous matchup 95-88 on Feb. 10, by shooting an astounding 67.4 percent clip from the field, 74 percent in the opening half.
"We got great shots and had a rhythm going [during the last meeting]," UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. "They’ll come out with a revenge type of attitude; they’ll come out hard."
One of the key factors in the last meeting was freshman point guard Jacoby Atako and sophomore point guard B.J. Ward’s relentless defense on Mustang senior helmsman Watende Favors. Favors was limited to a meager six points and two assists from the pressure applied by Atako and Ward, not allowing the senior to roam around the court and controlling the tempo of the game. Favors also coughed up the ball three times.
"Most of [Favors’] shots are through transition baskets," Atako said. "We guarded him three-quarters of the court and picked him up from there. He didn’t have a good rhythm. That was the difference."
UCSB did an excellent job shutting down Cal Poly’s all-time leading scorer, senior forward Chris Bjorklund. Bjorklund said he felt that after missing his first shot, he could not catch on fire at all. The senior finished with an uncharacteristic nine points on 2-7 shooting. The help defense also had a great deal to do with the Gauchos’ success shutting down the forward.
"When he gets the ball inside, we will double-team him again," Ward said. "We have to limit his offensive opportunities."
Two Mustangs the Gauchos will probably be leery of are freshman guard Jamaal Scott (21 points) and freshman power forward Varney Dennis (15 points). Santa Barbara allowed Cal Poly to snatch 22 offensive rebounds, a number inflated by the strong UCSB shooting, but also by the Mustangs’ height advantage inside. Williams acknowledged that shutting down Bjorklund will be important, but other Mustang role players can step up.
"We know Bjorklund is an explosive scorer," Williams said. "It’s kind of like selecting your poison. You turn him loose or turn them loose on weakside boards."
Cal Poly will not be a walk in the park, and the Gauchos hope they are ready for the challenge of stepping up on the road again, after recent road wins at Long Beach State and UOP.
"They have a very hostile and great crowd," Williams said. "It’s a good college basketball environment. There have been some great games we’ve played down there my previous two years."