Winners of four of their last five, the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team (9-7 overall, 4-2 Big West) stays at home this weekend to clash with Cal State Fullerton (8-8, 3-2) in a Saturday night showdown at the Thunderdome. Though they hold a slight edge in conference standings, the Gauchos will have to bring their A game if they wish to defeat a team that won both of their meetings in the 2008-09 season.
“There’s definitely a little grudge when a team beats you twice in a row … no one likes that,” junior forward Jon Pastorek said.
Though UCSB is without last year’s primary scoring threat in forward Chris Devine, this year’s dynamic duo of sophomore swingmen Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally have proven themselves more than capable of carrying the load on the offensive end.
“They have been real consistent in scoring the ball,” junior guard Justin Joyner said. “It’s tough for any team to stay with both of them.”
Johnson has been the backbone of the squad all season long, reaching double figures in all 16 of Santa Barbara’s games on the way to team highs in points per game (16.6) and rebounds per game (5.5). On the flip side, Nunnally started slow but has come on strong in recent outings, pouring in averages of 19.0 points and 7.8 rebounds over UCSB’s last four wins.
Though O.J. and Nun should hold their own from the wing, the Gauchos are optimistic that they can establish a post presence against a guard-heavy Fullerton squad.
“The x-factor in this game could be Jaimé Serna,” Joyner said of the sophomore forward. “If they play [man-to-man defense], he can go to work inside.”
Though he has struggled to take his game to the next level in his sophomore campaign, Serna has plenty of reasons to believe in a breakout performance. The last time these teams matched up, #0 had a career night with 20 points and eight rebounds.
But as the offense settles in, it will be just as important for the Gaucho defense — the third best defense in the Big West — to hold up against a team loaded with high-percentage shooters.
“As of late our zone [defense] has been working well for us,” Pastorek said. “If we get out on the shooters and force [Fullerton] into contested shots, we should be fine.”