The UCSB men’s basketball team is going streaking and is making its final run through the Thunderdome this week.
The Gauchos (12-11 overall, 4-6 in the Big West) have won five straight games and look to extend their streak tonight, hosting Cal State Fullerton. With its 76-72 victory over San Jose State last weekend, Santa Barbara made the streak its longest since 2003.
“I think we have been playing our best basketball,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Now – knock on wood – if we can avoid the flu that’s going around, if we have all of our pieces, we can keep playing well.”
The Gauchos traveled to Fullerton during the first week of the Big West season, dropping a 73-59 decision, their second straight loss at Titan Gym. The Titans (12-11, 4-8 Big West) are coming off of an 89-63 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday and finish their conference season this week in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
In the preseason polls, Fullerton was picked by the media and the Big West coaches to take the conference title, but faltered, dropping six of its last eight conference games. After losing the assistance of two All-Big West forwards to graduation last year, the Titans have relied heavily on junior point guard Bobby Brown and senior forward Jamaal Brown. The two have combined to score 44 percent of Fullerton’s points this season and, despite injuries, are ranked first and second, respectively, in the Big West in minutes played.
“[Fullerton] has struggled,” Williams said. “They don’t have the depth they had last year. They’ve struggled sustaining their defensive effort. I’m really not sure what’s to blame for their record.”
Unlike the Titans, Santa Barbara is quickly becoming the team to beat in the conference. Its winning streak is the longest current streak in the Big West. Senior guard Cecil Brown leads the Gauchos in scoring, averaging 14.1 points per game and 18.5 points over the past four games. Brown has helped UCSB record four straight games with free throw percentages over 80 percent, hitting 12-12 at San Jose State and 31 of his last 32 from the charity stripe.
“We’re more confident and a little tougher than we were [at Fullerton],” Williams said. “Offensively, we’re much better. Obviously, it’s a little different coming off of five straight wins as opposed to coming off of a loss at Riverside.”
Earning the first start of his UCSB career against UC Davis, senior guard Michael Chambers has been a starter in every game of the winning streak, scoring 22 points in the past four games, all in the second half. Along with Chambers, the bench has emerged as an offensive force for the Gauchos. Non-starters have contributed 109 points over the past five games, including 47 from sophomore guard Alex Harris and 36 from senior forward Cameron Goettsche.
One concern for UCSB will be the health of junior forward Glenn Turner. Williams said Turner has been out of practice all week with the flu and is not expected to start tonight. Turner is the Big West’s leading shot blocker and eighth best rebounder. Turner and the rest of the defense own the third best rebounding average and second best scoring defense in the conference.
With just four games remaining in the season, the Gauchos are looking to continue their climb in the Big West standings. Although UCSB is currently in fifth place, the final two weeks of the season could see a shake up in the conference standings.
“[Pacific] has three more games and is in the prime spot to win this thing,” Williams said. “Outside of that, there is not much difference from the top of the league to the bottom. … There is a great amount of parity in the league.”
Santa Barbara finishes out its home season hosting UC Riverside on Saturday for Senior Day. Tip off for tonight’s game is scheduled for 7.