Tonight the UCSB men’s basketball team plays their last game before settling down for finals week in a match against Utah Valley. The game is the Gauchos’ fifth road game in a row, and is a chance for the 3-4 squad to pull itself back to .500. UCSB is 2-2 on the road so far this year.
“It gets a little tiring [to be on the road], especially when you got finals coming up and you got a lot of schoolwork to do,” junior guard Jason Powell said. “But when you get out on the court none of that matters.”
Santa Barbara will most likely be playing without senior forward Chris Devine, who was listed as “questionable bordering on doubtful” last night. Devine tumbled late in the first half of last Sunday’s game and sat out the second period with a sprained ankle. Devine is tied with Powell for the team lead in scoring at 12.6 points per game, and is also tied with junior forward Jesse Byrd for the team lead with 6.1 rebounds a night.
The Gauchos are coming off of their largest defeat of the season, Sunday’s 87-59 blowout against Illinois State in the finals of the World Vision Invitational. Illinois shot over 60 percent in the match, while Santa Barbara barely mustered 40.6 percent. The Gauchos’ overall shooting percentage was heavily depressed by their abysmal 4-22 mark from three-point land. In contrast to the loss, when UCSB played then-#1 UNC earlier this year, their margin of defeat was 11 points fewer despite playing the nation’s best squad.
“You never want to lose, but you never dwell on the past,” Powell said. “We just want to play hard, just bounce back and do what we need to do.”
The potential loss of Devine puts more of the production load on Powell and Byrd, but luckily the Gauchos have already shown that they have a thoroughly capable bench. Aside from leading the team in scoring, Powell leads in total shots (91) and total steals (9). Meanwhile, Byrd has been extremely efficient this season, averaging 60.5 percent from the field for eight points per match. Overall, Santa Barbara has 11 players averaging at least one basket per night, and eight of those players average more than 15 minutes per game. What this signifies is that UCSB has depth, which is what they will need to help fill in for a missing Devine.
“[The substitutes] don’t really have a choice,” Powell said. “Somebody is going to have to step up to fill in. I know that they can do it.”
The Santa Barbara bench is led by a pair of freshman, guard James Nunnally and forward Jaime Serna. Both youngsters have proven to be definite impact players already this season, with Nunnally pouring in a ridiculous 21 points against North Carolina and Serna ranked third on the team in rebounding. Fellow freshman center Greg Somogyi has also been a force on the court, throwing down big time dunks and using his enormous wingspan to lead the team with nine blocks despite only playing nine minutes a night.
While the Gauchos are out-rebounding opponents by an average of 33.9-30.7 so far this season, they’ve given the advantage back with a -2.1 turnover margin. With those stats balancing each other out, the Gauchos have needed to shoot better than their opponents to win, and their losses have come when they can’t. Tonight, UCSB will look to make it rain in hopes of picking up a win before picking up the books for finals week. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Utah Valley’s McKay Center.