It’s time for that dreaded road trip again.
The UCSB men’s basketball team begins its toughest two-game road swing of the season tonight at 7 at the University of Idaho’s Cowan Spectrum. Santa Barbara then heads into the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Saturday at 3 p.m. to try and upset one of the hottest teams in the country, Utah State.
The Gauchos, winners of two straight games and five of their last six, will need to win both games this weekend to stay in contention for the regular season Big West title. Santa Barbara (12-6, 6-3 in the Big West) trails the Conference-leading Aggies (17-1, 9-0) and the University of Pacific (13-7, 8-1) in the Big West standings.
Having won its last 14 games, Utah State cracked the Associated Press Top 25 poll Monday for the first time in 33 seasons and appears almost unstoppable at times. Although junior forward Spencer Nelson, probably the most versatile post in the conference, was sidelined for a few games because of injury, Aggie sixth-man sophomore forward Nate Harris responded with three straight Big West Player of the Week awards, something no other USU player has ever done. The 6’7″ post has averaged 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds on an unprecedented 33-45 shooting during his last four games, including 70 percent shooting from the field on the season, the best mark of any player in the country. When Spencer returned to the lineup last week, Harris moved to the five spot and forced former starting senior center Mike Ahmad to the bench.
The Gauchos will need to fight the raucous Logan, Utah fans at the Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum, one that regularly seats over 10,000 people per home game. Utah State beat the Gauchos 75-59 there last season, and the Aggies have now won 13 straight games at home, the 10th longest home-winning streak in the nation.
Tonight though, Santa Barbara will try to snag win number seven in the Big West in Moscow, Idaho. After beating the Vandals 59-47 on Jan. 10 at the Thunderdome, Santa Barbara will employ a fully healthy arsenal against the Idaho (7-12, 3-6 in the Big West) in the second go-around. Junior forward Casey Cook appears to be healthy after scoring 10 points in 12 minutes of action, and senior guard Branduinn Fullove has taken charge of the Gauchos and does not appear to be favoring the ankle he injured in November.
Idaho knocked off fourth-place Irvine at home Saturday and disposed off interstate rival Idaho State on Monday.
Utah State hosts a resurgent Cal Poly team tonight in its tune-up for this weekend’s big matchup against Santa Barbara. UCSB’s game against USU will be aired by Fox Sports West 2 and broadcast by KTLK 1340 AM.