After giving up yet another come-from-behind loss to Cal State Fullerton last Saturday, the UCSB men’s basketball team will be shooting to pick up some Big West momentum this Saturday night against conference rival Cal Poly.

The story of this year’s Gauchos (7-9, 1-3 Big West) can be told in two simple parts: The squad comes out like lightning to open games but falls off noticeably in the second half. In fact, despite their 1-3 conference record, Santa Barbara has taken a lead into the half in all four games.

“Really, the whole thing is about being able to play two halves of basketball,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “All four league games we’ve had substantial leads in the first half. Our efforts to hold onto the ball and lead in the second half have not been good.”

With the second half a glaring problem, UCSB is trying hard to lock down a solution. While mentality is surely a big part of the issue, it can hardly be blamed for the whole enchilada, especially with the Gauchos’ second half effort in the limelight. Williams said that at this point in the season, conditioning could also have an effect.

“Sometimes this time of the year you become less conditioned because you have a break and then come back and have to start immediately preparing for games,” Williams said. “We [the coaching staff] are saying that it’s looking like it’s a possibility that we are fatiguing down the stretch.”

Santa Barbara needs to bounce back against the Mustangs after last Saturday’s 62-58 loss to the Matadors. The Gauchos led by as much as 13 in the first half and was defensively brilliant overall, holding the Big West’s highest scoring offense to 12 points under their average. However, 24 turnovers in the game – including a combined 11 from UCSB leaders senior forward Chris Devine and junior guard James Powell – along with only five successful field goals in the second half left Santa Barbara short at the buzzer. Williams said that while the Gauchos’ guard play is better overall, their ball protection and aggression has been lacking.

“I think our aggression level on the perimeter is better,” Williams said. “I don’t think in the second half [against Fullerton] we created the transition opportunities we had in the first, and we weren’t as aggressive in pushing the ball. In the second half we had 13 turnovers, which is way too many; 24 [turnovers] for a game is ridiculous. We have to take better care of the ball. I think we’re going to need better efforts out of James [Powell] and Chris [Devine], our two upperclassmen leaders, and more consistent efforts out of them.”

Williams said that with Santa Barbara’s problems reasonably evident to the coaching staff, they’ve been hammering hard on them in practice.

“We’ve had four things we are hitting on in practice,” Williams said. “One: getting in better basketball shape. We can’t worry about getting tired. Two: taking better care of the basketball. We’ve had way too many turnovers and we have just been sloppy handling the ball. Three: creating space for rebounds on the backside. … Four: Our post entry passes have been doing a good job getting to our post players, but we don’t think we are getting in the ball inside enough. We’ve been getting more free throws than our opponents, which is good, but we need to keep attacking the rim.”

Despite the Gauchos’ record, Williams sounded optimistic about where they are heading. With 12 games left in the Big West conference season as well as the postseason tournament looming, UCSB still has time to polish their play and have an impact in the league.

“We think that there are a lot of areas we can improve in, which is a good thing,” Williams said. “If we were playing the best ball we could and we were 1-3, that would be a disappointment. But at this point, things can only get better.”