In the Central Coast’s version of “The Big Game,” the UCSB men’s basketball team is looking to extend its season-high, three-game winning streak tonight, hosting long-time rival Cal Poly.
After starting off the conference season with just one win in seven games, the Gauchos (10-11 overall, 3-6 in the Big West) have taken two straight on the road over then-first-place Irvine and then-third-place Long Beach State. Santa Barbara is out for revenge after suffering a 74-62 defeat at the hands of the Mustangs in San Luis Obispo on Jan. 21.
Cal Poly is coming off of similar success, squeaking out a 61-58 win Saturday, handing the Anteaters their third conference loss of the season. The Mustangs (7-14, 5-4 Big West) moved into third place in the conference with three wins in their past five Big West games.
With their wins over Irvine and Long Beach, the Gauchos clawed their way into sixth place and have the opportunity to pull their overall record to .500 for the first time since Dec. 28. Santa Barbara’s sweep of the road trip last week was its first set of consecutive road wins since 2003-2004.
In the last meeting between the two teams, the UCSB defense disappeared, forcing just two turnovers and allowing the Mustangs to shoot 45.6 percent from the field, including 13-24 in the second half. Cal Poly held the Gauchos to an ugly 28.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
A new Santa Barbara team has emerged over the past two weeks, however. UCSB has forced 43 opponent turnovers in the past three games and is second in the Big West in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, allowing just 67.8 points per game and holding the opposition to 43.7 percent shooting from the floor.
Senior guard Cecil Brown comes into tonight’s game as the reigning Big West Player of the Week after dropping 23 points against Long Beach State and 14 points at Irvine last week. Brown leads the Gauchos averaging 13.8 points per game. Sophomore forward Chris Devine leads the squad and the conference, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. Devine leads Santa Barbara in rebounding, averaging 5.5 boards per game to go along with his 12.7 points per game.
A key to the turn around for UCSB may be the addition of junior forward Glenn Turner and senior guard Michael Chambers to the starting lineup. Both Turner and Chambers have started in each game of the current winning streak. In his three starts, Chambers is averaging 7.6 points per game while Turner posted his first career double-double in Santa Barbara’s last home win over Davis.
Junior forward Derek Stockalper’s 13 points and 6.6 rebounds per game lead Cal Poly’s trio of double-digit scorers. Stockalper is closely followed by both sophomore guard Dawin Whiten and senior forward Gabe Stephenson, averaging 12.8 and 10.5 points per game, respectively. Whiten proved troublesome for the Gauchos earlier this season, scoring 24 points on 5-11 shooting from three-point range.
Tip off for tonight’s game is scheduled for 7.