The UCSB men’s basketball team faces Long Beach State today at 5 p.m. in the Thunderdome in what boils down to a must-win game.

Santa Barbara currently stands a half game behind Irvine in the Big West Conference standings and will face the Anteaters on Saturday at 7 p.m. for Senior Night at the T-dome. A sweep this weekend at home against the LBSU and the Anteaters would put the Gauchos a full game over both Irvine and Utah State, two of the strongest teams in the conference.

The Gauchos are the weakest rebounding team in the Big West, averaging 30.2 rpg, and UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams stressed boxing out and taking advantage of athleticism at the guard positions to gain an edge on the glass.

“It’s not our only concern, but it’s a great indicator for us as to how we’re playing,” Williams said. “If we’re attacking, flying around and rebounding the ball, then usually we’re playing pretty good basketball.”

Santa Barbara (13-12, 10-4 in the Big West) will be looking for some revenge against the rebuilding 49ers (5-19, 4-11) and first-year Head Coach Larry Reynolds.

LBSU shocked the Gauchos 68-67 on Feb. 1 at the Pyramid. Down seven points with 1:03 remaining, UCSB jumped ahead 67-66 with junior guard Branduinn Fullove’s free throw. Yet senior guard Tony Darden made two free throws with 2.2 seconds left for the final margin of victory.

“I expect us to be back up, and I expect us to play great basketball this weekend,” Williams said.

The demoralizing setback came on the heels of possibly the most impressive victory of the season, a 70-54 thrashing of Irvine on Jan. 30. After the LBSU loss, the Gauchos won four in a row before dropping their last two games against Cal Poly last Thursday and Detroit Mercy in ESPN’s Bracket Buster Saturday.

UCSB will keep an eye on LBSU’s sharpshooters, Darden (this Big West Player of the Week who scored 30 and 21 in the last two games) and freshman guard Jabril Hodges.

“I have a lot of concern about those two guys from the three point line,” Williams said.

After LBSU and Irvine, UCSB will face Riverside and Fullerton on the road to conclude the regular season.

“We should win these last four games,” sophomore point guard Chrismen Oliver said. “It’ll be great for our seniors, Mark Hull and B.J. Ward, to go out on the top also. Once we get on a roll again, we know we can beat anybody.”

Starting March 13, the Gauchos will set their sights on a second straight Big West Championship.

“We already got a taste of what it means to be successful last year when we finished off strong,” Oliver said. “I really enjoyed last year’s Big West Tournament. It’s an experience I can’t really explain.”