After a disappointing loss to UC Davis in its last game, the UCSB men’s basketball team will look to get back on the right track this weekend when it plays host to Big West rival Cal Poly.
Despite losing two out of their last three games, the Gauchos (11-5 overall, 3-1 in the Big West) remain in second place of the Big West Conference, while the Mustangs (8-8, 1-3 Big West) come into this weekend’s game in seventh place. Even though UCSB appears to be the heavy favorites on paper, it cannot afford to take the Mustangs lightly, as another conference loss would be an early blow to the Gauchos’ Big West title hopes.
“There is no win in preseason that outweighs a loss in league, and there is no loss in preseason that’s anywhere near as bad as a loss in league play,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said.
In order to avoid another upset, the Gauchos will need to bolster their defense, specifically on three-point shots. Long Beach State (11-5, 2-1 Big West) handed UCSB its first conference loss in part by making 17-of-33 shots from beyond the arc, and UC Davis (3-12) made six second-half three-pointers en route to a 70-66 upset win. The Mustangs come into Saturday’s game ranked second in the Big West in three-point percentage at 41.9 percent, while the Gauchos have allowed opponents to make a conference-high 43 three-pointers.
While the Gauchos have allowed opponents to shoot 41 percent from beyond the arc, the team believes the problem lies with its own defense rather than the hot shooting of opponents.
“We’ve got to identify shooters and get to them,” senior guard Cecil Brown said. “Yeah [Davis] hit threes, but a lot of them were wide open.”
Another problem for the Gauchos in recent weeks has been the lack of production from the young starting backcourt and the bench. Freshman guards James Powell and Justin Joyner are combining for only 9.6 points per game in Big West games, while shooting 36 percent and 27 percent from the field, respectively. While Brown scored nine points against the Aggies last weekend, the remaining five Gaucho reserves failed to score in 35 combined minutes of action.
“It’s pretty important to start getting some more consistent production from other players,” Williams said. “We’re still getting production out of [junior forward Chris Devine and junior guard Alex Harris], but we need someone else to step up and give us another scorer.”
The lack of scoring has allowed teams to key on Harris – who scored 28 points against Davis despite facing constant double- and triple-teams. The performance bumped Harris’s season average to 21.2 points per game, good for 12th in the country.
The Gauchos and Mustangs have faced each other 86 times dating back to 1938, with UCSB holding a 58-28 advantage in the all-time series. The teams played three times last season with both teams winning a regular season game at home and the Mustangs winning the rubber match in the second round of the Big West Tournament. Saturday night’s game will tip off at the Thunderdome at 7 p.m.