It may not be USC vs. UCLA, but tonight’s UCSB men’s basketball crosstown rivalry matchup should be one worth watching.
The Gauchos host Westmont in their second and final game of exhibition play before beginning regular season play Nov. 18. The Warriors are coming off of a 69-61 exhibition victory over the Australian Institute of Sports on Nov. 3.
Historically, Santa Barbara has owned the Warriors, boasting a 43-5 record in the all-time series. Even with the ugly all-time record, Westmont has always put up a fight against the Gauchos — its last win was a 54-53 victory in 1998.
“Typically, the Westmont game is always hard-fought. They always come out and challenge you,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They will come after us and play physical and competitively. This game is always played like a real game, not an exhibition.”
The Gauchos will finish off exhibition play tonight, after a 57-36 win over San Diego last week. Santa Barbara held the Tritons to 34-percent shooting from the field and just four free throws. The Gauchos also returned several key players to the court and gave minutes to the newcomers on the team.
Sophomore forward Chidi Ajufo led the squad with 13 points on 4-6 shooting from the floor, while sophomore forward Chris Devine added 10 points and two steals. Both Ajufo and Devine were making their debuts for Santa Barbara. Senior guard Cecil Brown returned to action for UCSB after a one-year layoff due to injury and contributed six points, seven boards and two assists.
“It felt good to get back out there,” Brown said. “I’m still getting a feel for things. It almost felt like I was in a foreign land, but it felt good.”
A rusty Santa Barbara offense shot just 35 percent in the second half against the Tritons. Several key returners were missing from the lineup against San Diego, including forwards senior Cameron Goettsche, junior Glenn Turner and sophomore Derek Rasp. Williams said he expects Goettsche and freshman guard Lance Hurdle to be available for tonight’s game, which should help the offense run smoother.
“Last week was the first time running the offense against anyone but our own team,” Brown said. “We watched the film and we just weren’t seeing the open areas we had. It’s going to be a lot better this week.”
The Gauchos expect a challenge from Westmont, especially in the post. Senior forward Nick Debban averaged 13.5 points per game last year and is the Warriors’ top returning scorer, while Santa Barbara-grown junior forward Santiago Aguirre has impressed the Gaucho coaching staff.
“They have their returning four-man who was their leading scorer,” Williams said. “We know their returning five player because he’s a Santa Barbara High grad. He’s very good down low and has improved physically. He really developed his body in the offseason, probably better than anyone else we’ll play this year.”
Santa Barbara is not taking the Warriors lightly, viewing this as its last warm-up before a tough preseason schedule, which includes North Carolina, San Diego State, Arizona State and Portland. The Gauchos tip off their regular season at home Nov. 18 against San Francisco.
“Both exhibition teams are discipline-oriented offensively, which presents a challenge defensively for us,” Williams said. “Obviously, though, they are not as athletically gifted as the teams we will play in the preseason, so there is really no way for us to get ready for that type of quickness.”