Four appears to be the UCSB men’s basketball team’s unlucky number right now.
With just four regular season games remaining, the Gauchos (13-10 overall, 7-7 in the Big West) are in fourth place in the Big West after losing four of five games.
“We’d just like to get back on track,” UCSB Assistant Head Coach Marty Wilson said. “Looking at the league standings, we’re half a game behind Idaho for the third spot.”
Santa Barbara travels to Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym tonight at 7 in an attempt to get back on the right track. On Jan. 31 at the Thunderdome, the Gauchos crushed Fullerton 77-44 in their most impressive victory of the regular season. Titan guard Bobby Brown has emerged as a Big West Freshman of the Year candidate and senior forward Pape Sow has the ability to score inside if given enough room. In their last meeting though, senior guard Jacoby Atako shut down Brown and the Santa Barbara frontcourt teamed to disrupt Sow’s rhythm, and the Titans’ frustration sent them into early foul trouble. After winning three straight home games, Fullerton (9-14, 5-9) has dropped its last two road contests to Utah State and University of Idaho.
“All the games are important. We need to play well and build upon each game to get us ready for the tournament,” Wilson said. “We have to use these next four games as a springboard for going into the league tournament.
The Titans are currently tied for the sixth spot with UC Riverside and UC Irvine in the conference standings and are fighting for a spot in the eight-team Big West Tournament from March 10-13 in Anaheim. Although the Gauchos are fighting for the third spot, they could easily find a first-round match against Fullerton or UC Riverside.
“Teams know we can play,” senior guard Branduinn Fullove said. “In the tournament, a lot of weird things can happen. For the one or two seeds, it’s almost like a curse.”
Santa Barbara hits the road for the last time this season on Saturday night at 7 against the Highlanders at UCR’s Student Recreation Center. Despite losing its last two contests, the Highlanders (8-14, 5-9) led late at Utah State and eventually lost to the #23 Aggies in overtime up in Logan, Utah, on Feb. 19. Idaho, a team that has won eight of its last nine games, survived against UCR with a five-point win in Moscow, Idaho, last Saturday.
“When we’re expected not to do well or expected to lose, I think that’s when we play our best,” Fullove said. “Going into the tournament two years ago, we didn’t even gel until like two weeks before the tournament.”
The UCSB coaching staff has waited patiently all season for the Gauchos to click, but time is running out. Although Santa Barbara’s cleaned up many of its errors, the Gauchos still need to find a team rhythm that lasts 40 minutes.
“We’re right there where we could blow the lid off the pressure cooker. But it’s still brewing,” Fullove said. “I’m really hoping that we will gel because I’ve never been on a team where we didn’t.”