Preparation and fortitude are two traits the UCSB men’s basketball players hope they carried with them on their trip to the Anaheim Convention Center. If the Gauchos didn’t, then they’ll consider the happiest place on earth the most agonizing place on this cold, blue globe.
Santa Barbara had only three days of practice before arriving for today’s shootaround and the battle with Pacific at 8:30 tonight in the first round of the Big West Tournament. The Tigers (16-11, 8-8 in the Big West) will try not to lose their third game to UCSB in the same season, and the Gauchos are going to attempt to set up a possible showdown with #1 seed Irvine in the semifinals.
Santa Barbara has spent the few days that they had before the tournament working out some fundamentals and important mechanisms of team defense that are vital for the team’s success.
“We’ve been working on getting out of double-team and rotating in the right direction,” said sophomore point guard B.J. Ward, who averages 4.4 points, 2.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds and a team-high 1.3 steals per game. “When the double-team comes, we are going to have to rotate out correctly.”
The Gauchos have also been concentrating on the mental aspect of their game: The players all realize that one loss will end their season, yet they are trying to put a positive spin on how to handle postseason competition.
“I think we have a real good chance [of winning the Big West Tournament],” said junior forward Mike Vukovich, who was chosen as Second Team All-Big West along with sophomore forward Mark Hull. “We only have to win three games. Anything can happen. If we hit a hot streak – we can go to the NCAAs.”
The Gauchos boast four players who were honored by the Big West, including All-Freshmen guard Nick Jones and forward Branduinn Fullove, who was also named Honorable Mention All-Big West. Yet UCSB will look to its all-around threat and floor leader Fullove for guidance in the tournament, even though the game will be the freshman’s first direct taste of March Madness. Fullove is averaging 12.2 points, five rebounds and a team leading 3.1 assists on the season.
“I think I came in and did what I was expected to,” Fullove said. “It feels good contributing to the team. This year, I’ve grown up and learned a lot about the game.”
Fullove also acknowledged that the team has to bear down and play relentlessly if they want to advance in the tournament, and that road starts against Pacific
“Everyone needs to do the best we can do,” he said. “Whatever we need whether it’s rebounding, steals, passing; I just want to contribute. I just want to win. I want to do whatever it takes for this team to win. Hopefully, the team can feed off what I’m doing and it’ll be contagious. I think they’re a very dangerous team. It’s hard to beat a team three times in one year. But it’s tournament time. We just got to be a kamikaze out on the court. We never know when we’re going to go off.”