In a season that will feature one of the toughest nonconference schedules around, the UCSB men’s basketball team will face their first big test this weekend at the Basketball Travelers Classic, hosted by Stanford University.
The Gauchos open their season when they take on Northwestern State this afternoon at 4:30 in the first game of the tournament. Regardless of the result, the Gauchos will take on Harvard on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. before closing the tourney with a tough matchup against #21 Stanford on Sunday at 3 p.m.
The trip will provide a homecoming of sorts for a large portion of the roster, as six Gauchos are from Northern California. Leading the way is senior guard Alex Harris, who averaged a conference-leading 21.1 points per game last season. The Alameda native led all players with 16 points in UCSB’s 61-57 exhibition victory over Cal State Dominguez Hills earlier this month. For Harris, this will be the first chance to show what he can do after another summer of hard work.
“This summer was about adding strength and working on my low post game,” Harris said. “I won’t just have to rely on my height anymore when I’m posting up smaller guards because I have some legit footwork that I can go to. I feel a lot more confident with my back to the basket and I feel a lot stronger.”
Another Gaucho making a return home is senior forward Ivan Elliott. Before transferring to UCSB, the San Francisco native played at West Valley College in Saratoga, virtually a stone’s throw from Stanford’s Maples Pavilion. While Elliott never found a rhythm in the exhibition opener, both teammates and coaches are expecting great things from one of the Gauchos’ most energetic players.
“Ivan has taken a step up physically and maturity-wise,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “He’s a 20-year-old senior and he’s a young guy, but his body is starting to mature much like [Harris’] did at that age. I think his game will go to the next level. Statistically he might not be dominant, but he might be at times as valuable a guy as we can have on the floor because of the variety of things he does.”
The weekend slate will provide Williams and the team a chance to show off a deeper roster that plans to play an up-tempo game this season in an effort to force more turnovers. The pressing, trapping defense forced 28 turnovers against CSU Dominguez Hills, but it has yet to be seen how the system will work against quality Division I opponents.
While Northwestern State and Harvard have never been known to light it up, the Cardinal should provide a chance for the Gauchos to make some national waves on Sunday. Stanford will be playing without star sophomore center Brook Lopez, who is academically ineligible for the fall quarter. Stanford’s loss is a break for UCSB, which would have had a tough time matching up with the 7-footer.