Now the Gauchos can breathe a little easier. Maybe they can heave a sigh of relief.

The UCSB men’s basketball team received great news on Wednesday from the NCAA: forward Bray Skultety will be awarded a rare sixth year of eligibility, Santa Barbara Head Coach Bob Williams said.

A pivotal role player in the Gauchos’ 2002 postseason run through the Big West Tournament and ultimately to the NCAA Tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., Skultety was set to start at the center position in 2002-03. However, the 6’6″ and 225-pound Skultety suffered a devastating tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that sidelined him all of last season.

“[Skultety] worked so hard before last season, and to have it end the way it did was so unfortunate,” Williams said in a press release. “Now he will get the opportunity to see his hard work pay off.”

Skultety earned the extra year of eligibility because he sustained an eye injury in the 1999-2000 season. He averaged 4.4 rebounds per game, ranking third on the team in 2001-02. He also scored 2.5 points a game as a junior.

Before 2001, the Valley Center native had not participated in organized basketball in six years. The walk-on had never played since his freshman year in high school yet quickly became a force in the key for Santa Barbara. He pulled down 10 rebounds twice last season and led UCSB with a phenomenal .625 field goal percentage.

Skultety helped lead the Gauchos to a 20-11 record, a Big West Tournament title and an appearance against Arizona at The Pit in the opening round of the Big Dance. Skultety will bolster a front court that will include junior Casey Cook, senior Bryan Whitehead, redshirt freshman Glenn Turner and sophomore transfer Cameron Goettsche. Goettsche, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, redshirted in 2001-02 at the University of Utah. Goettsche could start at the power forward/center slot in place of the incumbent Cook.