After two embarrassing home losses, the UCSB men’s basketball team is looking for some time away from the beach to reinvigorate its season.
The Gauchos (11-6 overall, 3-2 in the Big West) travel south this evening to face Cal State Northridge (10-8, 3-2 Big West), with the winner taking over sole possession of third place. After disappointing home losses to UC Davis and Cal Poly the last two weeks, UCSB hits the road where they have posted a 6-2 record, much better than its 5-4 record in the Thunderdome.
“We’ve actually played at times better on the road,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “I don’t know if its more routine, but we seem to respond better on the road.”
The Santa Barbara offense has struggled as of late, scoring under 66 points in each of its last four games while picking up just one win during the stretch. The squad hopes junior guard Alex Harris can rebound from his 4-16 showing from the field against the Mustangs. Despite his missing shooting touch, the conference’s leading scorer still finished with 19 points thanks to 10 successful free throws.
Against Cal Poly’s (9-8, 2-3 Big West) tenacious zone defense, the Gauchos netted just 61 points on 37 percent shooting, and attacking the zone has been the focal point for the coaching staff in practice this week. The Mustangs forced UCSB into 12 turnovers while Santa Barbara was only able to total five assists.
“We didn’t have any hard movement and we were pretty stagnant against Cal Poly,” Williams said. “There wasn’t any hard dribbles or hard movement and our post didn’t have enough of a presence.”
The Matadors are the only team to knock off conference leader Long Beach State in league play and have won four of their last five, the only loss coming in double overtime at the hands of UC Davis (4-13) on the road. After dropping its first two conference contests, CSUN is riding a three-game winning streak in the Big West.
Junior forward Jonathan Heard has proven to be one of the most dominant players in the conference as he is the fifth highest scorer and stands 12th in rebounding. Senior center Thomas Shewmake is one of the best rebounders in the league and the Gauchos may have trouble with his 250-pound frame as they did with sophomore forward Titus Shelton, the big man for the Mustangs.
As a team, the Matadors are second in the league in scoring at just under 80 points a night and they catch UCSB as it is going through a defensive lull. In their last three losses, the Gauchos have allowed the opposition to shoot above 45 percent each night.
“We have to shore up our defense,” Williams said. “Northridge generates a lot of offense off of transition, and they create 20 turnovers a game. You have to take good care of the ball against them.”
UCSB has owned the Matadors over the years, holding a 24-8 series edge. Last season, each team won on the other’s home floor, with the Gauchos winning in overtime 82-76 at the Matadome.
CSUN is an impressive 7-1 at home with the only loss coming to Boise State (9-8) in early December. Both teams aim to remain within striking distance of conference leaders Long Beach State (13-5, 4-1 Big West) and Cal State Fullerton (14-4, 5-2 Big West) as the halfway point in Big West play nears.
“To get back on track, it’s brutally important that we go find a win on the road this weekend,” Williams said.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. from the Matadome.