After two consecutive heart-breaking home losses, the UCSB men’s basketball team will head back on the road, where they have a perfect 3-0 record this season.
The Gauchos (4-2 overall) will take on Portland (2-7) Saturday night; both teams are currently on losing streaks. UCSB is coming off of losses to San Diego State and Loyola Marymount, while the Pilots dropped their fourth in a row Wednesday night against Washington State. The Pilots are 2-0 at home this season, while the Gauchos have yet to lose away from the Thunderdome.
“We’re excited to go back out on the road,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Part of the learning curve with a young team is you learn in games. We’re young and inexperienced, but we will learn and our guys are confident about going on the road and playing.”
The Gauchos and Pilots have played each other eight times previously, with each team winning four games. The two teams met last season at the Thunderdome with the Gauchos coming away with a 76-63 victory. The Gauchos have not played in Portland since the 1998-99 season – Williams’s first as head coach – with the Pilots pulling off a narrow 78-73 victory.
Senior guard Cecil Brown returned on Wednesday and gave the Gauchos a senior presence for the first time all season, in addition to some much-needed minutes in the backcourt. Prior to Brown’s return, freshman guards Justin Joyner and James Powell had been averaging 32 and 29 minutes per game, respectively. Brown played 21 minutes against LMU, but he looked tentative at times and only attempted four shots.
“He hasn’t played in six weeks and that rhythm that you need to play just isn’t there. There is no way to build any confidence when you have not been out there,” Williams said. “We think he’s a good two weeks away from getting that rhythm and feel for the game back. The sooner we get him back fitting into this team the better it’s going to be.”
Junior guard Alex Harris has flourished this season after moving from point guard to the wing positions. Harris has crossed the 20-point mark in every game this season, and he currently leads the Big West in scoring with an average of 23.2 points per game. Best of all for the Gauchos, Harris has been getting his points within the framework of the offense as he is shooting 53 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc.
With Brown missing the first five games, the Gauchos needed another scorer to step up, and Powell has done just that. Powell is averaging 14.3 points per game and he is second on the squad in three-pointers and free throws made.
“It’s really easy playing alongside guys like [junior forward Chris Devine and Harris] because they draw so much attention,” Powell said. “When that happens I’m going to be open so my job is to knock down shots.”
Saturday’s game begins a stretch of five nonconference games in 20 days for the Gauchos. UCSB will take on Portland, Fresno State, San Francisco, Vanguard and San Diego, before beginning conference play Dec. 28, at home against UC Riverside.