After opening up Big West play last weekend with a pair of losses, UCSB men’s basketball needs to get back to winning form quickly. With 16 total conference games, opening up the season with a losing streak of any size digs a hole that becomes increasingly difficult to get out of. The Gauchos (0-2 Big West, 6-8 overall) will try to take care of business tonight against UC Irvine (1-0 Big West, 3-10 overall) in the friendly confines of the Thunderdome. The Anteaters have been playing hot as of late, and they will surely be fired up to rumble UCSB. Head Coach Bob Williams said that his Santa Barbara squad will have to be ready to weather that storm.

“They’re very confident coming into the Thunderdome,” Williams said. “I’m sure they will be bringing their best game. They know if you get hot in league it doesn’t matter what you did in preseason. We have to overcome their emotional charge in the beginning of the game, I’m sure they are going to be very pumped up to play us. We just have to play harder [and] longer than them.”

The Gauchos have had trouble shooting as of late, but as a dropped 12-point lead against UCR last Sunday attests to, a large part of their problems have been inconsistency in intensity on the floor. Their effort level has fluctuated throughout their matches, and this certainly has had an effect on their shooting.

“We have to finish a game in terms of having the same mindset all the way through,” Williams said.” We need to put forth the same effort in the second 20 minutes as in the first.”

Williams said that the shots will drop, but only if the team has the right mindset.

“You have to stay persistent, you have to have the confidence to make the open shots, and you ultimately have to start balling,” Williams said. “[As a coach] you start worrying about shooting in September. It’s just such a big part of the game, that confidence to shoot the ball when you have a good look. Last year we were one of the best shooting teams in the country, so it’s something we need back.”

Conversely, Williams said that the Gauchos’ defense has improved. Despite the Riverside loss, in which the Highlanders shot lights out, he feels that they are on the right track on the defensive end.

“We’re getting better defensively. We played well against Riverside and they flat out made shots. I mean, I think they were eight of 11 from the three-point line. For the season they’ve been 28 percent [shooting threes], and those [in the game] were not naked gimme shots. From that standpoint, putting pressure on the ball and contesting shots, we are doing better.”

The biggest issue for Santa Barbara right now, and unfortunately the one thing they can do the least about, is the loss of stellar junior transfer Jesse Byrd to knee surgery. Byrd was a huge presence for UCSB down low, and helped balance the Gauchos’ shooting woes with powerful offensive rebounding. With Byrd out until at least mid-February, freshman forwards Greg Somogyi and Jaime Serna will be splitting time to fill the spot despite their youth.

“It’s been tough because it’s put Greg Somogyi and Jaime Serna under more pressure,” Williams said. “Obviously [senior forward Chris] Devine has been playing outstanding, and I’ve been pleased with that. But it’s a big loss to lose one [of] your starting five, a guy who was almost averaging double-double, who is your leading rebounder and a force on the offensive boards.”

With their rough start and a lot of road games looming, the Gauchos desperately need to get their mojo working in a home weekend that Williams called a “must win”. Tip-off for tonight’s match is slated for 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.