Gaucho fans traveling down to the Bren Events Center in Irvine, California tonight might have revenge on their minds after UCSB’s loss to the Anteaters at the Big West Tournament last year, but senior forwardChris Devine does not.
“I don’t think about that,” Devine said. “Some guys might, but to me, I don’t think about that at all. It’s just another game, I feel like we just take one at a time.”
The UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team (12-3, 1-1 in Big West) is set to take on a UC Irvine squad (5-9, 0-1 in Big West) that ended the Gauchos’ NCAA Tournament hopes in 2007. Off to its second best start in program history, UCSB was not only named the preseason conference favorite, but the team has also developed a balanced scoring attack. Four players have scored in double-figures in each of Santa Barbara’s first two Big West contests including a difficult 88-84 defeat at the hands of Cal State Northridge.
“We try to focus on the present,” senior guard Alex Harris said. “And so it’s more about how we can bounce back from this last loss we had. We gave a lot emotionally in that game. [Irvine] will be a test of our character for this season.”
The Anteaters are led by senior forward Patrick Sanders and senior center Darren Fells, who combined score 29 points per game. However, in three meetings with UCSB last season, a different player paced the Anteaters each time.
“They have some big guys inside so we definitely have to get on the glass and take care of business there,” Devine said. “They have Fells inside who is a solid player, but I don’t think we change anything. We just continue to go at them, keep them off the glass, and play our defense.”
Irvine is guided on the sidelines by 11th-year Head Coach Pat Douglass who is eleven victories from having the most career wins in program history. Last year, Douglass took UC Irvine as far as the semifinals of the conference tournament where Fells fell victim to foul trouble and eventual league champion Long Beach State triumphed over them.
“Pat’s very versatile and he adjusts to the opposition,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They played us very physical last season and really packed it in defensively. We have to defend a lot better because Sanders and Fells are very good and they are surrounded with very good shooters.”
For the Gauchos, senior forward Ivan Elliott has led the team in rebounding over the last six games and sophomore guard James Powell matched his career-high with six assists against the Matadors. Devine has recently had two of his better scoring nights with a team-high 17 against Long Beach and a season-high 24 versus Northridge.
“I’ve just been playing free,” Devine said. “I put myself in the position in a lot of the games early to have nights like I’ve had the last couple, but I just missed a couple gimmes and ended up getting 14 instead of 19 or 20. I don’t think I’ve really done much differently; things are just starting to roll my way a little more.”
This season, UCSB’s only two road losses have come against college basketball powerhouses Stanford and North Carolina, but the team has yet to play a league road game. After dropping their first home game to the Matadors, the Gauchos aren’t about to lose their rhythm.
“We’ll bounce back,” Harris said. “I think this will be a good week for us and we’re confident playing on the road.”