With hard times falling on the UCSB men’s basketball team, the players and coaches hit the practice floor Monday afternoon looking for ways to ease their ailment.
The Gauchos will hope to regain composure and intensity after faltering down the stretch in their most recent skid. And they also are banking on the return of leading scorer, junior guard Branduinn Fullove, from a groin injury that has already sidelined him for a week and a half.
Santa Barbara has lost seven of their eight games by single digits, including the most recent 57-55 OT heartbreaker at the hands of upstart Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. UCSB has lost six of its last seven contests including five straight setbacks on the road.
“The last five, six games we’re in these close games in the last two minutes and then we’re breaking down,” senior All-Big West forward Mark Hull said. “We need to work at the fundamentals and find a way to win in the last two minutes.”
The road to winning will not be any kinder for Santa Barbara, set to depart on the rugged Idaho/Utah State swing early Wednesday morning. UCSB plays the Vandals Thursday at 7 p.m. and the Aggies on Saturday.
Fullove saw no live action in Monday’s practice, and participated in only half-speed and shooting drills. His return on the hardwood Thursday will likely be based on Head Coach Bob Williams’ decision.
“The injury’s less painful than last week,” said Fullove, who averages 16.1 ppg and shoots at a 49 percent clip from three-point country. “Hopefully, I’ll get going on Thursday.”
Fullove described his injury as “day-to-day,” and is currently feeling the pain flare up when he plays at full speed.
The Gauchos worked extensively on end-of-game situations and helpside defense drills on Monday. In the CSUF loss, junior guard Nick Jones missed a free throw with 5.4 seconds left in regulation and UCSB up three. After reviewing game film of the CSUF collapse, the Gauchos expect to fix the problems that have been plaguing them in the closing minutes of too many games.
“In practice, we mostly worked on a lot of end-of-game situations,” senior guard B.J. Ward said. “We need to focus on putting the game away, getting a stop and scoring an aggressive basket where we go to line instead of settling for a three.”
Though Fullove’s absence stung Santa Barbara against the Titans, especially in the closing minutes, players refused to rely on a player’s injury as an excuse.
“People get hurt all the time, and we have to play around it,” Ward said. “Someone has to step up, and we’re all capable.”