The UCSB men’s basketball team will look to exact a measure of revenge on UC Davis this weekend when it travels north to finish off a three-game road trip.
The Gauchos (13-6 overall, 5-2 in the Big West) have won their last two games, but a bitter taste remains from a Jan. 13 home loss to the Aggies (4-15). Tonight’s game will be the final time this season that the Gauchos play only one game in a week – a scheduling quirk that the coaching staff will be glad to finally be done with. UCSB is at the tail end of a four-week stretch that will see the team play only five games, making it difficult to get any sort of rhythm going. The Gauchos were 0-2 during the stretch before winning back-to-back road games last week.
“We played a game a week for two weeks and now, all of a sudden we played back-to-back games and we played a little better,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We want to get in a rhythm of playing. I don’t like having Saturday off, but there’s nothing you can do about it. We need to play through it and maybe we’ll get a little healthier and we’ll get a little better at executing under pressure.”
The Gauchos have won 10 of 13 all-time games against the Aggies, but the tables were turned earlier this season when Davis overcame a halftime deficit to beat UCSB 70-66. Senior forward Thomas Juillerat dominated the Gaucho post players on his way to a team-high 16 points, while senior forward Ari Warmerdam scored 14 points to help fuel the second-half comeback.
Junior guard Alex Harris leads the Big West in scoring at 21.2 points per game, good for 14th in the country. Harris scored 28 points in his previous game against the Aggies, and since that point he has seen opposing defenses increase their efforts to keep the ball out of his hands.
“Teams are going to be physical with me because they feel like they can maybe overpower me, but I’ve been playing with bigger players my whole life,” Harris said. “The hard part is just trying to stay focused and trying not to fight back because then you lose focus of what the team is trying to accomplish.”
In a reversal of previous season’s trends, the Gauchos have been far better on the road this season than at the Thunderdome. UCSB’s record is 8-2 on the road, equaling the team’s number of road wins from the previous two and a half seasons combined. The Gauchos have won three straight road games, beating UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge, and Pacific – teams that are a combined 18-9 at home this season.
“The road wins were huge for us as a team and for me as a player,” Harris said. “I feel like I’ve turned a corner and the team has turned a corner in the way that we approach road games.”
Aside from the consistent play of Harris and junior forward Chris Devine, the Gauchos have found a surprising third option of late in freshman guard Justin Joyner. In two wins last week, Joyner averaged 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, three assists and three steals per game. The point guard has become an essential part of the Gaucho offense, as the team is 8-0 this season in games when Joyner racks up four or more assists.
Tonight’s game tips off at 7 at the Pavilion in Davis.