It might be Valentine’s Day, but there won’t be any love lost tonight when the UCSB men’s basketball team travels to San Luis Obispo in an attempt to even its season series with Cal Poly.
The Gauchos (15-7 overall, 6-3 in the Big West) lost to the Mustangs (12-10, 4-5 Big West) 71-61 earlier this season, but both teams come into tonight’s game playing some of their best basketball of the season. Cal Poly split last weekend’s series with Long Beach State and UC Irvine, losing to the 49ers (17-6 overall, 7-2 Big West) by only three points. UCSB beat the Anteaters (11-15 overall, 5-7 Big West) on Thursday before losing to Long Beach on a game winning shot with 0.4 seconds left in the game.
“We put ourselves in a position to win the [Long Beach] game,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We were in a position to make plays, but we just didn’t get it done. Hopefully we get an opportunity to play those guys again.”
UCSB shot only 36 percent from the field and 22 percent from beyond the arc in the last meeting with Cal Poly. Junior guard Alex Harris led the team with 19 points, but he has struggled in recent games and is coming off a season-low nine-point performance against Long Beach. After starting the season with seven consecutive 20-point performances, Harris has crossed the 20-point threshold only once in his last six games.
With Harris and junior forward Chris Devine seeing the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses, senior guard Cecil Brown has stepped up to lead the Gauchos on both offense and defense. Brown had his two best games of the season last week, averaging 20.5 points, four rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He has also been a key to the resurgent Gaucho defense, which held the 49ers to their lowest point total in almost two months.
“He really is kind of a coach on the floor right now in terms of all the adjustments we make,” Williams said. “The area that nobody on the team sells lightly, but nobody else really notices, is how good he’s become defensively. He is doing a phenomenal job defensively and his maturity at the defensive end is really helping this ball club.”
After missing games early due to an injury, Brown returned to the starting lineup in the Jan. 20 loss to the Mustangs. The starting spot came at the expense of freshman guard James Powell, who scored only 14 total points in his first three games as a reserve. If the last three games are any indication, Powell is now fully adjusted to his new role as the team’s offensive spark off the bench. Powell has reached double-figures in scoring in consecutive games for the first time since early December, and he is averaging 10 points per game in the Gauchos’ three February games.
Tonight’s game tips off at 7 p.m. at Mott Gym in San Luis Obispo.