Picked to finish behind first place Long Beach State in the Big West preseason poll, the UCSB men’s basketball team enters the 2009-10 season hoping for much more than a second place finish. Not having won the conference tournament since 2002, the Gauchos are as determined as they are due for a reintroduction to the big dance.

Long before the team can eye the ultimate prize, UCSB must first prove itself over beatable opponents, the first of whom will be Cal State Los Angeles. The Division II Golden Eagles will tip-off with Santa Barbara at the Thunderdome this Saturday at 3 p.m. as the Gauchos attempt to begin their regular season with a win. Though they have yet to play in an official contest, UCSB is coming off a 101-64 exhibition blowout of Sonoma State last weekend.

“We won’t be perfect [against Cal State L.A.], but it’s a game we can and should win,” junior forward Jon Pastorek said.
Both Pastorek, a transfer from SDSU, and sophomore guard Orlando Johnson formerly of LMU, made the most of their starts against Sonoma. Playing in their first game with the Gauchos, Pastorek was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field while Johnson filled up the stat sheet with three blocks, three rebounds and a team-leading 21 points. After sitting out a year due to eligibility requirements, the pair of transfers should provide the team with two new, dynamic weapons.

“[Pastorek and Johnson] give us more options, creating matchup problems and playing different positions,” junior point guard Justin Joyner said.

One position where the team will be hurting come Saturday will be point guard, as Joyner is out with an ankle sprain. The slated starter for UCSB sat out last season following surgery on his wrist and rehabbed his way back only to fall victim to another injury before the start of the season.

“[Senior guard] Paul Roemer and [sophomore guard] Will Brew are worthy candidates to step in at the point, but we want [Joyner] back in action as soon as possible,” Pastorek said.

Though the loss of Joyner was devastating for the Gauchos of 2008-09, the depth of this year’s team should soften the blow heading into the home opener. The current roster has over 10 players that should battle for playing time — a recipe that should propel them to the top of their game while providing Head Coach Bob Williams a difficult balancing act.

“The depth of our team is forcing everyone to play at a higher level,” Joyner said. “Coach [Williams] is going to have to ride the hot hands.”

Every player had the touch against Sonoma State, as Santa Barbara’s shooters stroked it at a 63 percent clip including a 10-for-17 showing from distance. If UCSB can carry over its aggressive scoring and team it with a solid defensive effort, the home team should have no problem putting a seventh-straight season opening victory in the books.