Tonight the UCSB men’s basketball team will shoot to rebound from a pair of bad losses in the friendly confines of the Thunderdome. The Gauchos (8-11, 2-5 Big West) need to snag a win in the ESPNU-televised match against a hot Northridge squad (7-10, 4-3 Big West) after going 1-2 in their last road trip.
“We want to come out with an inspired effort and rebound from probably our worst effort of the year,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “I mean, [Northridge is] good and very athletic. They’ll come after us and press and try and get the game into a scramble, which they are very good at doing.”
The story for Santa Barbara this conference season has been told in two basic parts: quality defense, dismal scoring. The Gauchos have held opponents to 68.4 points per game, good for fourth in the conference, but are only averaging 63.1 ppg themselves, last in the Big West. UCSB has shot pretty well from the field, averaging a 43.5 percent clip, but has been horrendous from behind the arc. The Gauchos hit their treys less than 28 percent of the time despite taking almost a third of their shots from deep range.
“We’ve obviously worked on shooting a great deal and worked on our zone offense a lot, and we’ve worked on our shot preparation a lot,” Williams said. “Sometimes you aren’t prepared to shoot, and we need to cut that down. If the ball starts dropping early, we should be looking good.”
Huge positive news for the Gauchos is the return of a pair of juniors in forward Jesse Byrd and guard Paul Roemer. Byrd, who has been out since a late December knee surgery, is returning a couple weeks ahead of the earliest predicted date, and should provide a huge mental boost to UCSB despite being limited by his doctor in minutes initially. Byrd was extremely efficient in the early part of the season, scoring 8.3 points at a 58 percent shooting percentage and nabbing 7.6 boards per game. Roemer, who was out with a shoulder injury, brings presence to the Santa Barbara perimeter and leads the team in three-point shooting percentage.
“Paul’s had some very good practices this week and Jesse’s come back and surprised all of us,” Williams said. “[Byrd has been] released by the doctor for limited minutes and practiced Monday and Tuesday before we gave him a break [Wednesday]. We feel very good about the fact that he’s back, it will be a big boost for us inside. It’s really big because he’s been having such a good year until the injury hit. For him it’s a chance for him to get back and help. For the young guys, it’s a big confidence boost knowing he’s coming back.”
Overall, Williams said that the team is ready to head home.
“I think its huge any time we get to play at home,” Williams said. “This group has played much better at home. We are more comfortable here.”