It’s rivalry weekend at the Thunderdome for the UCSB men’s basketball team.

The Gauchos, losers of two straight games, host struggling Cal Poly on Saturday night at 7 in the Thunderdome for the final regular-season contest between the two contentious foes.

Last Saturday’s 63-54 loss to #19 Utah State capped a rough road trip for Santa Barbara. Yet, the Gauchos, especially the four seniors, would love to make it 2-0 against the Mustangs this season. Both squads were picked by the coaches and the media to finish in the top three of the conference standings, yet UCSB enters the contest in third place while the Mustangs sit in the cellar at last place.

“It’s always nice when there is a little extra flavor with a game,” UCSB Assistant Head Coach David Campbell said. “There should be high fan interest, and this is always an exciting game for us.”

Senior guard Branduinn Fullove and Cal Poly senior forward Varnie Dennis have fiercely battled one another for the last four years, and both leaders know that Saturday’s game will be pivotal for their respective squads to climb back into playoff contention. Although the Mustangs have just three wins in conference, there are only three games that separate fourth and 10th place in the conference standings. The Mustangs feature three of the top scoring talents in the conference – Shane Schilling, Kameron Gray and Dennis – and Cal Poly untimely ruined 2003 regular season champion UCSB’s NCAA Tournament aspirations with an early semifinal departure.

“[Cal Poly] is underachieving like us right now,” Campbell said. “We have to be able to play consistent basketball to win.”

Santa Barbara (12-8 overall, 6-5 in the Big West) mixed up the lineup against the Aggies and the coaching staff has not ruled out rotating some bench players into the starting role.

“It’s not a situation who starts the game,” Campbell said. “For us, it’s more important who finishes the game.”

Freshman forward Glenn Turner has seen increased minutes lately and the high-rising post was assigned to play one of the best players in the conference in junior forward Spencer Nelson of Utah State last Saturday.

Sophomore guard Cecil Brown has showed improvement but has been hampered by a nagging ankle sprain. Brown is expected to play against the Mustangs, especially considering that when he scores at least 10 points, Santa Barbara is 7-0.

UCSB’s next two games are probably its most difficult of the rest of the regular season. After what is expected to be an emotional game tomorrow night, the Gauchos will host second-place Pacific on Thursday night.

“We’re trying to establish a little more consistency with the team right now,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to achieve 40 minutes of good basketball. The guys have settled into their roles, but it seems to be the last seven or eight minutes that we fall apart.”