The rugged trek through the Big West continues for the UCSB men’s basketball team on unquestionably its roughest road trip every season: the Utah-Idaho swing.
The Gauchos will square off against Utah State tonight at 6:05 in Logan at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and then complete the trip against Idaho on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Aggies handed Santa Barbara its first home loss of the season on Jan. 5, 60-56. UCSB will be seeking to avoid a season sweep in Logan and not lose any more ground in the conference race that appears to tightening the farther along into the year.
Probably the most important aspect the Gauchos will be focusing on is their aggressiveness and toughness. All the players and coaches admit there was not enough to combat USU’s unrelenting, almost intimidating style of play.
“We let their physicalness bother us,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We missed a lot of easy shots. We have to do a better job defensively.”
Utah State will also have an advantage of playing on a court where they have lost only once in the last 40 games. USU is 17-6 all-time against the Gauchos at home, and the last time they defeated the Aggies on their turf was on Jan. 16, 1999, 66-65 in overtime.
“Obviously, Utah State is a physical team, and they may try to be more physical on their home court,” UCSB Assistant Coach Marty Wilson said. “We’ll try to counter that.”
UCSB plans on using a smaller lineup against the rugged Aggies. Senior center Adama Ndiaye will likely be the sole post starter. The rest of the lineup will boast sophomore guards Branduinn Fullove, Nick Jones and Jacoby Atako, flanked by junior forward Mark Hull.
USU boasts a frontline that includes junior Desmond Penigar and senior Jeremy Vague. Penigar blasted UCSB with 19 points and six rebounds. The forward averages 17.4 points a night.
“He’s a very good player,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t do anything fancy, he just lets the game come to him. Utah State runs two or three plays his way and he responds; he scores. The key for us is to limit what he does offensively.”
The Gauchos corralled senior USU guard Tony Brown effectively in the previous meeting. Though the swingman chipped in 12 points on 2-8 shooting, including 0-4 from behind the arc, Brown normally averages 16.4 points a game.
“One key to beating Utah State is Tony Brown: Don’t let him get started,” Wilson said. “We did a nice job with him.”
After what Atako called a practice this week where the players “pushed each other to get better,” the Gauchos will know what they have to do to win.
“I think our guys will be ready,” Wilson said. “We realize we didn’t play with the toughness or aggressiveness that we’re capable of … we’ll be better prepared for their game.”