After winning its last two games, the UCSB men’s basketball team looks to be hitting its stride heading into Saturday night’s Big West matchup at Cal State Fullerton. The same could also be said for the Titans, who handed Big West top dog Long Beach State its first conference loss of the season on Wednesday.
“[Fullerton] is just getting healthy,” Gaucho Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They went through a real injury bug in December so they’re just starting to gel. They’re real physical and they love a transition-oriented game.”
[media-credit id=20280 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Led by 6’6,” 240-pound senior forward Jer’Vaugn Johnson’s 14.9 points per game, the Titans improved to 3-4 after beating Long Beach, which dropped to 6-1 but remains in first place in the conference standings. UCSB was predicted to finish the season as the Big West champions for the second consecutive season, but two early losses to Long Beach and Pacific has them sitting in second place at 3-2, tied with Cal Poly.
“It gives us hope to see that [Long Beach] lost,” senior point guard Justin Joyner said. “The win was definitely big for us as well because it gives us hope in catching Long Beach.”
Joyner has been a significant aspect of the Gauchos’ reemergence in the past two conference games. He has dished out 12 assists in two games while turning over the ball just once and adding five steals during the same period. Williams also pointed out that Joyner only took three shots.
“I thought JJ came off his best week maybe ever as a Gaucho,” Williams said. “That’s exactly the type of thing we need from him for us to be the level of team we want to be.”
Joyner will alternate with junior Will Brew at the point and accompany junior guard Orlando Johnson in the backcourt. After hitting a slump of his own, he has posted 50 points in the last two games, earning Big West Player of the Week honors in the process. He leads the conference with 19.4 points per game, followed by teammate James Nunnally, who averages 18.2 per game.
“We’re being more aggressive, for real,” Johnson said of the team’s play during its last two games. “We’re shooting the three but not settling for it and our defense has really stepped up. When it’s on, it makes our offensive game that much easier for us.”
Johnson and the rest of the team also look forward to seeing their starting center, junior Jaimé Serna, in action once again. Struggling with a hip injury, Serna played 18 minutes and scored eight points in the team’s 71-55 loss to Long Beach on Dec. 28, though he had not practiced since Dec. 17. Williams believes he can get 16 minutes from him against the Titans.
Tipoff on Saturday night is set for 6:05 p.m. in Titan Gym.