It may not be David versus Goliath, but the UCSB men’s basketball team is looking for a similar result when they travel to first-place UC Irvine tonight.
The Gauchos (8-11 overall, 1-6 in the Big West) have yet to win a conference game on the road and have just one victory away from the Thunderdome all season. Meanwhile, after getting off to a 4-8 start in the preseason, the Anteaters (13-9 overall, 9-1 Big West) have nearly run the conference table, excepting a 64-52 loss at Pacific last week.
“It’d be huge to get a win,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They are leading the league. For our confidence level and momentum, it’d be a big win. It would be exactly what the doctor ordered.”
Although it is sitting at the bottom of the Big West standings, UCSB halted a three-game losing streak with a 73-54 win over UC Davis last week. Junior forward Glenn Turner recorded his first career double-double, while sophomore guard Alex Harris and senior guard Michael Chambers notched 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Scoring will be key for the Gauchos against Irvine. The Anteaters are first in the conference in scoring margin and are holding opponents to 68.5 points per game. Santa Barbara has the worst scoring offense in the Big West in conference games and is averaging only slightly over 60 points per game in its past five.
“[The game] depends on whether or not we shoot the ball well,” Williams said. “Irvine is a very good offensive team. What’s changed for them in league is that they’ve played much better defense than in the preseason. We have to put points on the board to stay in the game with them.”
After trying several different lineups over the past few weeks, Williams is looking for everyone to contribute against Irvine. Chambers earned his first start in a Gaucho uniform last week and made the most of it, going 5-8 from the field in 25 minutes of play. With Chambers starting in his place, Harris came off the bench to lead the team in scoring, posting his 15 in just 20 minutes.
“It should be the same starting lineup as last game,” Williams said. “We’re going to stick with what’s good. It’s not as important who starts but how the guys play when they get minutes. They have to take advantage of the minutes they get.”
The last time the two teams met, the Gauchos were on the losing end of a 70-66 decision at home Jan. 9. Although UCSB shot 52 percent for the game, it allowed the Anteaters to shoot nearly 50 percent and gave up 11 three-pointers. Irvine’s 42.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc is the third best in the nation and is averaging nearly nine treys per game.
The performance of the Santa Barbara defense could be the difference in tonight’s game. On the road, the Gauchos have allowed nearly 73 points and 7.2 three-pointers per game. The Anteaters’ duo of senior guards, Aaron Fitzgerald and Ross Schraeder, lead the team, averaging 12.3 and 13.4 points per game, respectively. In Irvine’s previous win over the Gauchos, the two combined for 29 points and 10-22 shooting from the floor.
“Our problem on the road is our defense,” senior guard Cecil Brown said. “We haven’t been playing the same defense on the road as we have at home. We haven’t gotten the stops that we get here. The main thing is to bring the same defensive intensity with us on the road as we have at home.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Bren Center in Irvine, Calif.
“Irvine is definitely the best team in the league,” Brown said. “They are playing really well. A win there would be a springboard for us.”