After an impressive road win against central coast rival Cal Poly, the UCSB men’s basketball team returns to UCSB for its final home games of the season.
The Gauchos (9-14 overall, 6-8 in the Big West) will host Fullerton (15-8, 9-5) at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome in a possible second-round playoff preview of next month’s all-important Big West Conference Tournament in Anaheim. UCSB is still glowing from its first conference road victory Saturday against the Mustangs, securing its first win away from Santa Barbara since a Nov. 19, 2004, overtime win against San Diego State – the Gauchos’ first game of the regular season.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get some momentum going into the playoffs,” UCSB Assistant Head Coach Matt Stock said. “We hope that these two home games can give us a boost.”
Fullerton, winner of seven of its last eight contests, has climbed to fourth place in the Big West and is in contention for the coveted number two spot in the conference, a seed rewarded with an automatic trip to the conference tournament semifinals. If all went Fullerton’s way, a number-two seed would also delay the inevitable war with #18 Pacific until the conference championship, with an outside shot at dancing in the NCAA Tournament with an upset over the Tigers.
The Titans lead the Big West in scoring offense, averaging 75.5 points per game, but give up 70.8 points per contest, the conference’s second-worst ppg average. The Gauchos, averaging under 60 points per game this season, will need to keep the score low to have a chance. Scoring 16.6 per game, Titan sophomore guard Bobby Brown is competing for the scoring title with teammate senior forward Ralphy Holmes.
The Gauchos will assign senior guard Chrismen Oliver to slow Brown down and likely stick junior swingman and defensive specialist Josh Davis to limit Holmes, a candidate for Big West Player of the Year. Inserted into the starting lineup this season, Oliver was originally a walk-on. This weekend will mark Oliver’s final time suiting up to play in front of a home crowd. Oliver leads Santa Barbara with 9.9 points per game in addition to topping all UCSB players in assists and steals. During a season that was marred by instability, Oliver provided a consistent scoring option each game and impressively led a Santa Barbara squad bedazzled by unprecedented injury figures.
“[Oliver] has been there day-in and day-out, in games and in practice,” Stock said. “He’s really been a catalyst for us and the X factor this season.”