The UCSB men’s basketball team will begin its defense as the two-time defending Big West Tournament Champions today when the team faces Pacific in the first round of the conference tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
“We feel good coming into the weekend, but we are very realistic,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “It’s a one-and-done situation and you have to play your best for three straight days.” Santa Barbara (18-9 overall, 12-4 Big West) enters the tournament this year on a roll as the No. 3 seed, having won six of the team’s last seven games. In each of the past two seasons, the Gauchos have beaten No. 1-seeded Long Beach State (22-8, 15-1) in the championship game.
On the other side of the tournament bracket, No. 1 Long Beach will face off against No. 8 UC Davis (5-25, 3-13). The winner of that game will face the winner of No. 4 Cal Poly (17-14, 8-8) and No. 5 UC Riverside (14-16, 7-9).
This year, UCSB swept the season series with Pacific. On Jan. 28, the Gauchos escaped on the road to beat the Tigers 56-53. The 56 points were a season low, but Santa Barbara was able to get it done with solid defense, holding Pacific to 31.2 percent shooting. At home on March 1, UCSB dominated Pacific 76-61 behind a season-high 28 points and career-highs eight assists and six three-pointers from senior guard James Nunnally.
“We have to control [Pacific’s] penetration,” coach Williams said. “If we come out and play hard and match up with them well, I like our chances.”
Senior guard Orlando Johnson and Nunnally both were honored as members of the All-Big West team earlier this week. Johnson, a top-25 finalist for the John R. Wooden Award, received First Team All-Big West honors for the third consecutive season, the first UCSB player ever to accomplish that feat. Nunnally was named to the Second Team All-Big West for the second time in three years. Johnson averaged a team-leading 20 points per game on the season, and led the team with 2.9 assists per game. Nunnally was second on the team with 15.9 points per game and first with 6.2 rebounds per game.
“I think it’s great for them that they made All-League,” coach Williams said. “It is a great honor. Nun has played exceptionally well, as well as the best players in the league, and OJ continues to be OJ … I am very proud and very happy for both of them.”
The Tigers are led by junior forward Travis Fulton and sophomore forward Ross Rivera, both of whom received All-Big West Honorable Mentions. Rivera was also named Sixth Man of the Year in the conference. Rivera leads the team with 11.4 points per game, while Fulton leads the team with 5.7 rebounds per game.
If they beat Pacific, UCSB will face the winner of No. 2 Cal State Fullerton (21-8, 12-4) and No. 7 UC Irvine (11-19, 6-10) in a game on Friday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU. The championship game is on Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
“Fullerton and Irvine play the game right after our, so if we win we will watch them play,” coach Williams said. “We have watched tape on both schools, but we just ahve to take this one game at a time.”
All tickets for Big West Tournament games are $10 for students. Tip-off for today’s matchup with Pacific is set for noon at the Honda Center.