Tonight the UCSB men’s basketball team will face #1 University of North Carolina. The sold-out matchup is the first home game against a national #1 for the Gauchos since 1991 against UNLV.

“We obviously know we have to play a good game,” junior guard James Powell said. “We have to shoot pretty well and we have to take care of the ball, because they’re definitely not going to be giving us extra chances.”

Santa Barbara is currently 1-1 after a tough 61-59 loss to Utah State Monday night. The Gauchos took the lead early, but spent most of the game just behind the Aggies. UCSB put together a solid run down the stretch to rein Utah in and, with :30 to go, Powell showed off his clutch shooting ability with a big three to knot the game up at 59-59. However, with the shot clock off, the Aggies penetrated and sunk a deuce with just three seconds to play. While sophomore guard Jordan Weiner managed to get a desperation shot off, it missed the mark to hand Utah State the win.

Powell said that the Utah State game doesn’t mean much tonight.

“Even though Utah State is a good team, they’re not at the same level as North Carolina,” Powell said. “We’re going to have to have confidence in knowing that we can play how we want to rather than basing how we feel on the court on how we played in the last game.”

On the other side of the court, the Tar Heels are a perfect 2-0 coming into the Thunderdome after beating Penn and Kentucky earlier this season. Santa Barbara and North Carolina met in Chapel Hill last year, and UNC took the win by a 105-70 margin. UCSB will at least have the home court advantage in this year’s match, with the first sellout of the Thunderdome since a game against Stanford in the 1999-00 season.

“The fact that they’re playing away from their house is a little bit of an advantage, but a team like that isn’t going to be worried about playing away from home,” Powell said. “The court is the same size everywhere.”

Leading the Santa Barbara offense is the power duo of senior forward Chris Devine and Powell. Devine, a prodigious scorer for UCSB throughout his career, leads the team with 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Powell is right behind Devine with 15.0 points per game, even though he has admittedly been lukewarm to start the year. Powell is only shooting .214 from behind the arc, far below what he is capable of, but he leads the team in minutes and has been making up for it in all other aspects of the game.

The big story for the Gauchos this season has been the youth of their roster. With only three seniors on the roster and six underclassmen recording minutes so far, younger players will be figuring prominently into the Santa Barbara game plan. Freshman guard Will Brew had a breakout game against Utah State after missing a few weeks just before the season with a concussion, and has six assists and three steals against three turnovers. Brew showed off impressive court vision for a freshman, especially with a couple dimes sent to 7’2″ freshman center Greg Somogyi. Somogyi has all of the making of a great player, and fired up the crowd against Utah State with a few dunks, blocks and long-armed rebounds.

With a powerhouse school coming into town tonight, every Gaucho both on and off the court will be thoroughly fired up, which should really get the Thunderdome rocking. Tip off for tonight’s game is 7 p.m.