The UCSB men’s basketball team will open up its 2011-2012 campaign Saturday night when it hosts San Francisco State in an exhibition game. The two-time defending Big West tournament champion Gauchos will look to reach the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.

Although the goal is ultimately to play competitively and win, a season-opening exhibition game against the Gators allows a team to search for a rhythm and gain cohesiveness heading into the regular season.

“It’s all about getting used to wearing a uniform again and playing together,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We want to come out and stay healthy, play hard, and get those first game jitters out of our system.”

UCSB is led by highly honored senior guard Orlando Johnson. A John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 and Lute Olson Preseason All-American Team member, Johnson led the Big West in scoring last season (21.1) for the second consecutive year, and was named Big West MVP after his sophomore season. Johnson is joined by senior forward James Nunnally, who averaged 16.3 points per game, good for sixth in the Big West, to form one of the most formidable offensive duos in the conference. Fellow seniors forward/center Jaime Serna and center Greg Somogyi also figure to be instrumental in the Gauchos’ success this season.

Two key transfers — Nate Garth from New Mexico, and Keegan Hornbuckle from Colorado — along with a total of seven freshmen will look to acclimate and find their roles on the squad.

“Early on, I am looking forward to seeing how much carry-over from practice we have as a team (in the game),” Williams said.

Santa Barbara will open its regular season next weekend against Chapman, the first in a string of six consecutive nonconference games in November. In December, the Gauchos will hit the road for four consecutive road games against high-quality opponents San Diego, Washington, California and BYU to conclude one of the toughest UCSB nonconference schedules in years.

“I absolutely wanted a tough nonconference schedule this year to challenge us,” Williams said. “Hopefully we can take care of business at home before we hit the road.”

Tip-off is set for 7:00 Saturday night in the Thunderdome.