The Thunderdome crowd will wave farewell to Santa Barbara’s five seniors this weekend during UCSB’s two-game homestand, its final contests of the regular season.
The Gauchos host UC Irvine tonight at 7 and will face Long Beach State Saturday at 7 p.m. in the final home game for guards Branduinn Fullove, Jacoby Atako and Nick Jones and forwards Bryan Whitehead and Bray Skultety.
“I’m excited to play for the last times in front of the crowd,” Atako said. “I’m definitely going to be a little sad though. We’ve had a great run here.”
Santa Barbara (14-11 overall, 8-8 in the Big West) currently holds the fourth spot in the conference standings, but the Gauchos still have a shot at reclaiming third place. If Idaho (13-14, 9-8), currently in third place, loses its season-finale against conference-leading #21 Utah State on Saturday night, two UCSB wins would propel the Gauchos to secure the third seed in the conference tournament in Anaheim on March 10-13.
“We definitely want to get the third seed,” junior forward Casey Cook said. “Instead of maybe playing the five seed in the second round, we would face somebody lower in the standings.”
The Gauchos struggled throughout February, but two wins in their final homestand might give Santa Barbara the confidence to make a run in the Big West Tournament. Plagued by injuries for the past couple weeks, UCSB lost important matches to University of the Pacific, Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside. In fact, UCSB’s only road win since the Jan. 17 Cal Poly victory was a come-from-behind double-overtime thriller against Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 26.
Sophomore guard Cecil Brown has emerged as one of Santa Barbara’s most consistent scoring options. Brown has averaged 16 points per game over the past two contests and has shown tremendous confidence with his perimeter jumper. Fullove and Atako have also elevated their play in the last few weeks, but nagging injuries to Brown (ankle), Fullove (hand), freshman forward Glenn Turner (lower back), sophomores guard Joe See (eye contusion) and forward Cameron Goettsche (fractured right thumb), and losing Skultety for the season with a torn ACL have all prevented the Gauchos from gelling late in the season.
“We haven’t really played that well lately, but we know that if we win the Big West Tournament it will make the whole season a success,” Atako said. “Sure we’re injured a little bit right now, but there are no excuses since every team’s dealing with those sort of things.”
Despite it being so late into the basketball season, the Gauchos still think that they can find their team chemistry.
“We can’t afford to lose,” Cook said. “We’re just going to have to go win five straight games.”