From a buzzer-beating three-pointer that led to a stormed court to a blown double-digit lead a few months later that left fans shaking their heads, one never knows what to expect when walking into the Thunderdome for a UCSB men’s basketball game.
The expectations for tomorrow night’s game however, are pretty cut and dry. UCSB will be playing at home for the final time this season, allowing fans to watch a quartet of Gauchos on the Thunderdome floor for the final time. First and foremost though, is the action on the floor, as UCSB (20-7 overall, 9-4 in the Big West) will be looking to extend its conference winning streak to three games and continue its run towards a Big West title against a UC Riverside (7-17, 3-9 Big West) squad that can all but lock up a Big West Tournament berth with a win.
“It’s not too much about Senior Night because we’re still more focused on the Big West Tournament and this is still a key game,” senior forward Ivan Elliott said. “We’re really more focused on the game ahead of us and the next two games because those are big for us.”
Elliott will be joined in a pregame ceremony by senior guard Alex Harris, senior forward Nedim Pajevic, and junior forward Beau Gibb, who will graduate in June and leave his fourth year of eligibility untouched. Harris remains on pace to pass Carrick DeHart as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and he enters his final game in Santa Barbara needing just five points to become the second player in school history to reach 1,600 career points.
“It’s going to be great because I know he’s loved around here,” Elliott said. “Everyone loves him and he’s one of the best players that has ever come to UCSB.”
Harris is the only member of the class to have played four years as a Gaucho, and he’s certainly made his mark on the program. The Alameda, Calif., native is the only player in program history to reach the 500-point mark in back-to-back seasons, and he currently ranks first all time in free throws made (436) and attempted (556), fourth in three-point field goal makes (185) and attempts (450), fourth in three-point field goal percentage (41.1 percent) and sixth in points per game (14). Just for good measure, Harris is also moving up the career lists in defensive categories, as he’s currently just two steals shy of 100 for his career. All in all, it’s been a remarkable career for Harris, who’s looking forward to making some more memories in his final home game.
“I won’t miss the [drills] or getting yelled at in practice, but I’ll definitely miss my teammates and the Gaucho Locos without a doubt,” Harris said. “I know its going to be special for me and a key moment in my life because UCSB was obviously a big part of my life, but I don’t know how I’ll react to it. If I’ll cry, or be happy, or be smiling the whole night, I don’t know yet.”
While the Highlanders sit near the bottom of the conference standings, the Gauchos can’t afford to take them lightly, especially after UCR nearly pulled off a huge upset in the teams’ earlier meeting on Jan. 30. The Highlanders trailed by two late in the game, until a 12-0 UCSB run cemented a 64-53 victory. Sophomore guard James Powell led the way with 25 points in the previous victory, and Harris chipped in 19. The Highlanders are coming off a big home victory over UC Irvine, a squad that’s defeated UCSB twice this season.
“We all know what Riverside’s done the last couple of games and they’ve beaten us in the past at their house so we know what they’re capable of,” Harris said. “We’re not going to think this is a cakewalk game because it’s always one of our toughest games every year.”
Opening tip for tomorrow’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m., but the seniors will be honored in a pregame ceremony. With a victory, UCSB would inch closer to securing a crucial top-two seed in the Big West Tournament, which would assure the Gauchos of a bye straight into the tournament’s semifinals.
“It’s been a special season so we’ll see if it culminates [on Senior Night] but the most important thing is that we get the win,” Harris said. “I feel like this is one of the best teams that I’ve ever played on and we’re good enough to get it done. It’s a good feeling to have knowing that [your fate] is in your hands. We can control our destiny.”