Tomorrow, UCSB ventures to Irvine to take on the Anteaters for not quite all the marbles, but a considerable share of them.
While the playoffs loom next week, at stake tomorrow is a possible first round bye in the NCAA playoffs, and possibly the Big West title. Should the Gauchos take care of their own business, they will still need some help from Cal State Fullerton. Tomorrow, Fullerton hosts Cal State Northridge, who can clinch the Big West with a win or a Gaucho loss.
As Santa Barbara knows all too well, Fullerton can be a tough team to play, especially in Fullerton. UCSB lost a 4-1 decision there three weeks ago, their worst loss of the season, and squeaked by Fullerton 1-0 Wednesday night in arguably their best performance of conference play.
“The Big West is really tough this year. All the teams can beat anyone, so it’s all about who shows up and puts the ball on frame. We were just one mistake away from dropping [Wednesday’s] game,” senior forward Neil Jones said. “If we can keep a clean sheet though, we’ll be fine.”
With Wednesday’s win, UCSB clinched at least a second place finish in the Big West, while Irvine will be playing for third place. The last time these two teams squared off, Irvine pulled off one of the more surprising upsets in the NCAA this year, beating the Gauchos at Harder Stadium. The loss at home was the first for Santa Barbara in conference play since the Big West was reinstated three years ago.
“They beat us at our place in a league game, so revenge is definitely on our minds,” junior forward Matt Bly said. “I look at it as a must-win, to get good position in playoffs and of course to get the Big West title.”
Big West champions or not, UCSB most likely has secured itself a spot in the postseason with exceptional nonconference victories over San Jose State, North Carolina State, Duke and San Diego, just to name a few. The NCAA selection committee will announce the seedings and pairings Monday, and if the Gauchos receive a bye, it will most likely mean they were victorious Saturday.
“A bye is really what we’ll be working for right now. It would give us an extra three or four days to train, recover to focus on what we have to do,” Jones said. “We have a couple guys banged up, so it would really help us out.”