There’s no doubt that tomorrow night’s game between the UCSB men’s basketball team and Cal Poly at Mott Gym in San Luis Obispo has huge Big West standings ramifications, but the Gauchos are insisting that there’s nothing personal going on with their rivals from the north.

“The fans and students at both schools are getting excited,” UCSB Assistant Coach David Campbell said. “We like that it’s turning into some type of rivalry, but we have to treat this game no differently than any other.”

After beating Santa Barbara in their last two meetings, including an upset in the conference semifinals last season, the Mustangs believed that 2004 would be the year they made it to the Big Dance. While everybody praised the likes of Utah State and UCSB at Big West Media Day in November, Cal Poly Head Coach Kevin Bromley and senior forward Varnie Dennis thought the Mustangs had just as good a shot at winning the conference title as any team. Cal Poly’s upset of Cal in preseason teamed with continual monster-scoring efforts from senior forward Shane Schilling, sophomore guard Kameron Gray and Dennis proved to many that a run for the Big West title by the Mustangs was not out of the question.

“[Dennis] is one of the better players in the conference and a force to be reckoned with,” Campbell said. “It’s going to be tough to stop him from being successful. We have to try to stop other players from getting hot too.”

Yet the Mustangs have dribbled out to a 1-3 subpar start to their conference season and need a victory badly against Santa Barbara (8-5, 2-2 in the Big West) to jump back into contention.

Junior starting forward Casey Cook, second on the Gauchos in scoring (10.8) and first in rebounding per game (5.5), will be sidelined against Cal Poly while nursing a severely strained right quadriceps muscle. Santa Barbara will depend on senior forwards Bryan Whitehead and Bray Skultety and sophomore forward Cameron Goettsche to fill the void left by Cook. Redshirt freshman forward Glenn Turner may see more minutes in an attempt to lay a body on Dennis if the Gauchos run into foul trouble.

For the last four years, one of the best matchups in the Cal Poly versus UCSB series has been the duel between Dennis and senior guard Branduinn Fullove. Tomorrow night, though, the point guard competition between Gray and senior guard Jacoby Atako might make for the game’s most intriguing battle. Gray, a transfer from Chabot College who is leading the conference in scoring 20.8 ppg, should be one of the most difficult opponents to guard for Atako, last season’s Big West Defensive Player of the Year.

“[Gray]’s probably one of the best scoring point guards in the conference,” Campbell said. “But you know that Jacoby didn’t get to be named Defensive Player of the Year for nothing.”