It’s been almost a month and the Gauchos are still sore. Although the pain may be subsiding, memories of their disastrous road loss to the University of the Pacific on Jan. 24 continue to linger.
It’s time to get even.
“We still think we’re one of the best teams in this conference.” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said.
Tonight, the UCSB men’s basketball team (13-8 overall, 7-5 and third place in the Big West) will host the Tigers (17-7, 12-1), the hottest team in the conference. Not only did UOP drub Santa Barbara by 20 points last month at the Alex G. Spanos Center, but the Tigers are reeling after upsetting then #19 Utah State 64-60 at home Saturday. Tiger senior guard Miah Davis earned his second straight Big West Player of the Week accolade for his 18-point efforts in wins over both the surging University of Idaho (10-13, 6-7 and fourth place) and the first-place Aggies.
Although the Gauchos disposed of rival Cal Poly on Saturday, they have yet to string together a stretch of consistent basketball spanning consecutive 40-minute games. Senior guard Branduinn Fullove started alongside sophomore guards Joe See and Josh Davis against the Mustangs, and Santa Barbara sizzled the Cal Poly zone with its determination to the motion offense.
“It wasn’t a matter if it was Cal Poly this week or Pacific next week, we’re just trying to play at an optimal level every game,” Fullove said.
The way Pacific has been playing basketball, #25 Utah State may miss out on a trip to the NCAA Tournament even though the Aggies have just two losses. Sophomore forward Christian Maraker is averaging 13.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this season, shooting 50 percent from the field. Maraker, an All-Big West Freshman Team member last season, torched the Gauchos for 16 points and eight rebounds in his last meeting with Santa Barbara. Davis leads the Tigers with 14.2 points per game, 69 total assists and 28 steals. Junior center Guillaume Yango, a first-year player from the College of Southern Idaho and originally from Paris, France [[ok]], is shooting 55 percent from the floor and averaging 5.3 boards per game and double-digits in scoring.
After a turnover-prone first half of the season, Williams vowed to give minutes to the players who took care of the basketball. Against Pacific, Santa Barbara committed 19 turnovers and shot just 36 percent from the floor. Williams has preached for the Gauchos to respond to the challenge.
“We are looking for guys to step up and earn more minutes,” Williams said after UCSB’s win over Cal Poly. “We’ve all been swimming in the same pond. Now we want guys to elevate into a new pool.”
With senior forward Bray Skultety out with a torn ACL, the UCSB posts will need to increase their minutes. Sophomore forward Cameron Goettsche has emerged as one of Santa Barbara’s most dependable producers in terms of scoring and on the boards. Coming off his first double-double of the season against Cal Poly, the first-year player has scored double-digits in four of his last five games. Goettsche now looks to hit the mid-range jumper that he would pass up a month or two ago, adding to his already-tremendous versatility.
“Rebounds, to me, are more important than points,” Goettsche said.
Sophomore guard Cecil Brown played just 15 minutes against the Mustangs because of his nagging ankle but sparked the Gauchos for 10 points, electrifying the crowd with a pair of acrobatic plays at the hoop.
“We think Cecil’s a key guy if he can stay healthy,” Willliams said.
Santa Barbara will honor Santa Clara High School men’s head basketball coach Lou Cvijanovich Jr. at halftime tonight. Amassing 829 victories in 41 seasons, the coach from Oxnard, Calif., is California’s all-time leader in wins as a coach and directed current senior guard Nick Jones and former guard B.J. Ward.
Tonight’s game against the Tigers is at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.