A new season starts for the UCSB men’s basketball team tonight in Anaheim. The Gauchos take their #5-seed into the 2006 Big West Tournament tonight, taking on #8 UC Riverside.

Although it has won seven of its last nine games, UCSB (14-13 overall, 6-8 in the Big West) must win four straight games to take the championship and the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

“The momentum that you build in the tournament is more important than what you’ve done leading up to [the tournament],” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “A win in the first round is the most important momentum you can build.”

The Highlanders (5-22, 3-11 Big West) finished last in the conference but does boast wins over UCSB and Big West champion University of the Pacific this season. The last time the two teams met, the Gauchos defeated Riverside 81-71 at the Thunderdome. However, during the first week of the season, UCSB dropped an 81-78 decision to the Highlanders on their home court.

“There’s not necessarily an advantage in winning the last one against [Riverside],” Williams said. “Seedings don’t really matter this time. We beat them at our place and they beat us at theirs. This is the third game, so whichever team plays the best game will win.”

Senior guard Cecil Brown and sophomore forward Chris Devine lead the Gauchos in scoring with 13.4 and 12.5 points per game, respectively, and enter the tournament with postseason awards in tow. Though both were sideline last season due to injuries, Brown and Devine were named to the All-Conference Second Team and Devine earned Big West Hustle Player of the Year honors this week. The awards are Santa Barbara’s first pair of All-Conference selections since 2003.

“We have a more legitimate chance this year,” Williams said. “We’re bigger, stronger and we have more depth. Last year we were kind of a shell of a team. Cecil and Chris both deserve to be all-league. They both had good years. They are two leaders and two productive players, it was nice to see them get recognized.”

Junior guard Rickey Porter – also an All-West Region Second Team selection – is the man UCSB will look to contain tonight. Porter leads the Highlanders, averaging 14.2 points per game. His career-high 40 points helped Riverside upset then-undefeated Pacific on Jan. 7. In two games against Santa Barbara this season, Porter totaled 35 points and played all but two minutes of each game.

Riverside seniors forward David Misko and center Klaus Schille will be looking forward to a more open lane tonight as the Gauchos will be without the services of junior forward Glenn Turner. After leaving UCSB’s loss to Pacific due to shortness of breath and chest pains last week, Turner underwent medical tests and will sit out the rest of the season.

“This takes out our best rebounder and the best shot blocker in the league,” Williams said. “It really changes the game. It just means that other players will have to step up.”

A win over Riverside would pit the Gauchos against #4-seed Cal Poly on Thursday in the quarterfinals. Tip off tonight is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena.