Off to its best start since the 1994 season, the UCSB men’s basketball team takes its perfect record on the road this evening to take on Pepperdine.
The Gauchos (3-0 overall) finish up their three-game road trip in Malibu and have been impressive away from the Thunderdome in this young season. After dropping its first seven road contests a season ago, this squad has won its first two games away from Santa Barbara, including an impressive 79-76 victory over longtime rival the University of Nevada Las Vegas last weekend.
Helping spark the quick start for the Gauchos have been freshmen guards James Powell and Justin Joyner. Powell has yet to show the usual freshman nerves, sinking clutch-free throws in two of UCSB’s victories. Joyner has already been shown to grasp the offense, dishing out a team-high 15 assists, including seven against the Runnin’ Rebels.
“James had a year of learning and we expected him to play very well,” junior forward Chris Devine said. “Justin is playing surprisingly well in a good way, staying under control, not letting the pressure affect him.”
After his slow start to the year, Devine has found the game that earned him Second Team All-Big West honors last season. Devine lead the squad in scoring and rebounding against UNLV as he slid back into his typical power forward position.
In addition to junior guard Alex Harris’ stellar play, the Gauchos own the Big West’s third-highest scoring offense. The squad has already shown twice this season that it has the ability to protect a small lead late in the game, and leads the conference by shooting 85 percent from the free throw line. Harris has been deadly at the stripe, making all 14 of his attempts.
“I think we’ve been playing really well down the stretch,” Devine said. “We didn’t have that the last couple of years. … Everyone is on the same page, everyone is together.”
The Waves (1-3 overall) will be playing in their home opener tonight and it will be the first home game for first-year head coach Vance Walberg. Pepperdine is coming off a narrow 95-92 loss against Big West foe Cal State Northridge. In the contest against the Matadors, Pepperdine turned a 17-point deficit into a five-point lead late in the second half, but faltered in the final minute.
UCSB will have to find a way to contain senior guard Gregg Barlow, who netted a career-high 24 points against CSUN. The Waves are a dangerous team from behind the arc and they hit 21 three-pointers against Nicholls State earlier this year – the sixth most in a single game in NCAA history.
“They are very athletic and like to get after you quite a bit,” Devine said. “They are going to run and gun and trap so there will be lots of long rebounds. Playing without turning the ball over is going to be huge for us.”
Tonight’s matchup is the 70th meeting between the two teams, and UCSB won last season’s contest 65-56 on their home court. The Waves hold the series lead, having won 37 games to the Gauchos’ 32.