The number-one scorer in the Big West and the seventh best shooter in the nation will meet at the Thunderdome tonight. Yet, when the UCSB men’s basketball team hosts Cal State Northridge at 7 p.m., first place will not be on the line.
The Gauchos (7-9 overall, 1-4 in the Big West) – who return home after a two-game road trip that brought them their first road win of the season – remain in last place in the conference, while Northridge sits just ahead of them in seventh place.
After two straight conference losses, Santa Barbara is looking to get the defense back on track. In their past two Big West games, the Gauchos forced only six turnovers and allowed both UC Irvine and Cal Poly to shoot better than 45 percent from the field.
“We’re challenging [the team] to be more tenacious defensively,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We’ve had breakdown after breakdown. Part of the problem is that we’re not real quick, so we have to play great team defense to make up for it. We have to cover for each other better.”
With junior guard Mike Efevberha at the top of the Big West in scoring, sophomore guard Jonathan Heard second in steals and junior center Thomas Shewmake first in the conference, averaging 1.5 blocks per game, on paper, the Matadors appear to have a well-rounded team. Efevberha is averaging 20.1 points per game, including a season- and career-high 39 points in a loss at Cal State Fullerton.
“They’ve got the number-one scorer in the league in Efevberha,” Williams said. “We have to pay attention to him. We have to know where he is and make life difficult for him if possible. He’s the most explosive scorer in the league.”
Meanwhile, Heard and Shewmake have been wreaking havoc on offenses, helping the Matadors to force nearly 21 turnovers per game.
“You just have to make sure you’re tough with [the ball],” Williams said. “We can’t be too casual with it. We’ve been pretty good with it, but against a team that creates turnovers and traps a lot, we’ll have to be very tough with it. We need to play well against the trap and take advantage when we get around it.”
Sophomore forward Chris Devine’s 63-percent field goal shooting – seventh in the nation – should be an asset for UCSB. Despite his scoring potential, Devine has not been getting as many passes in the paint as Williams would like.
“We need Chris to demand more touches,” Williams said. “We also need the guys to be looking for him more. We run a lot of plays that go his direction; we just need to look for him.”
Devine and senior guard Cecil Brown – the Gauchos’ leading scorers – will have to lead by example and wait for their three-point game to get back on track during this three-game homestand. UCSB shot just 28 percent from beyond the arc against Cal Poly and is shooting a conference worst 30 percent from downtown in Big West games.
After tonight’s game, the Gauchos will not get any breaks, hosting Pacific, the reigning Big West champs, Saturday afternoon.