With six of their next seven games being played in Santa Barbara, the UCSB men’s basketball team goes into tonight’s home opener knowing that the opportunity exists to get the season off to a great start.
Santa Barbara (2-1 overall) will host Cal Poly Pomona in the first game at the Thunderdome for the Gauchos and the first game period for the Broncos. UCSB is fresh off a second-place finish at the Travelers Classic, where the Gauchos dominated their first two games before falling to #20 Stanford (3-0). The game was close early into the second half, but eventually Stanford’s size proved to be too much for the Gauchos to handle.
“The size of their front line helped them a lot. They were able to be more physical and limit us to one shot,” senior guard Alex Harris said. “We failed to adjust [to the officiating,] and we didn’t knock down enough open shots to make them pay for leaving us.”
Harris led the Gauchos in scoring in all three games, as he will likely continue throughout the season. The Big West’s leading scorer a year ago, Harris is averaging 23 points per game through three games, and his 69 total points rank him third in the nation. Originally a point guard, Harris is now starting at small forward, leaving the starting backcourt to a pair of sophomores. James Powell and Justin Joyner have set the tone defensively for the Gauchos with their pressure defense on opposing guards, but the duo has yet to find an offensive rhythm early in the season. Their early shooting woes aside, Head Coach Bob Williams entered the season with complete faith in his young backcourt.
“Moving Al [Harris] to the three and having those two guys assuming those positions as sophomores, they’re going to be better players,” Williams said. “I firmly believe if you can win with freshmen in the backcourt, they’re going to be a whole lot better as sophomores. We have a really nice rotation in the backcourt.”
Rounding out that rotation in the early going have been junior transfer D.J. Posley and sophomore Paul Roemer, a former walk-on. While Posley has struggled through a one-for-11 shooting slump to open the season, he has provided instant energy off the bench and is already showing signs of being an impact defender. Roemer has been a pleasant surprise thus far, providing solid minutes off the bench as a backup to Joyner.
“He’s our best-kept secret,” Harris said. “He’s been really, really good in practice, and I think he’s shown Coach [Williams] more than he even expected. He’s being rewarded with minutes, and he’s earned them.”
The frontcourt rotation has been stellar thus far, with junior forward Chris Devine and senior forwards Ivan Elliott and Nedim Pajevic taking turns as the leader down low. Despite facing some foul trouble at the Stanford tournament, the trio is right behind Harris in scoring at 13.3, 10.3 and 9.3 points, respectively.