After three of the most successful years in program history, the UCSB men’s basketball team is ready to embark on a new season and new era tonight when they travel to take on LSU.
The youthful Gauchos begin the 2012-2013 season on the road with two East Coast matchups against LSU on Friday and Illinois State on Monday after graduating a group of five integral seniors in the spring.
“We’re young and hungry,” sophomore center Al Williams said. “We’re going to be ready to go out there and handle whatever they put in front of us. It’s definitely going to be a big game for us starting a new era like this, but I think we’re ready for it.”
UCSB begins regular season play against a formidable LSU team that finished with an 18-15 record and a first round exit in the National Invitation Tournament. Leading the Tigers will be sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant III who averaged over eight points and six rebounds per game last year as a freshman.
With the Gauchos visiting Baton Rouge during homecoming, Head Coach Bob Williams expects his team to encounter a raucous atmosphere when they enter the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to play in front of a big crowd, play in a historical arena … to go into SEC country,” Coach Williams said. “They have a football game the next day, so there will be a lot of hoopla around the athletic department and around the town. I think it’s going to be a very exciting game for us.”
As one of the three youngest teams in the nation, the inexperienced Gauchos could not have asked for a bigger test to open the season.
“It’s definitely going to be a really cool experience for us, especially being such a young team, [being] able to go on the road at a place like Baton Rouge,” Big Al said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, but at the same time we know what we need to do and we’re going to be prepared.”
While LSU was picked to finish 11th in the SEC this season, it has seen a major shift in team makeup with a new coach and six players who are wearing Tiger uniforms for the first time in their careers.
“It’s going to be a big business trip. I know it’s homecoming weekend, they’re going to have a big crowd,” freshman forward Taran Brown said. “We’re going to have to focus in and do our job. I am nervous, but I’m ready to go. I know it’s a huge opportunity.”
LSU features a small lineup similar to the Gauchos with the tallest expected starter coming in at a height of 6’9”. Regardless, UCSB is prepared for the unique skill set a prominent team from a major conference will bring with it.
“That’s a high-level league which gets a lot of big, strong physical type players. It’s going to be an interesting challenge that way,” Coach Williams said. “We hope to get some stuff easy in transition off our defense. If we can’t generate easy stuff off our defense, we’re going to be in trouble.”
After facing LSU, UCSB will then travel to the Midwest to take on Illinois State on Monday against a squad that fell in overtime in the Missouri Valley Conference title game last spring.
“They’re probably ranked higher than LSU right now. They’re big, they’re physical and they’re very athletic,” Coach Williams said. “That’s one of the best mid-major conferences. We’re going to have two very emotional teams that we get to play against.”
With two tough games ahead amid grueling travel, the inexperienced Gauchos are ready to begin their season with fresh faces and high spirits.
“It might be a little difficult at first, but once you get used to it and once you get acclimated, the moment of the game takes over,” Big Al said. “As long as we stay strong with each other, we’ll be fine.”
Tip-offs for both Friday and Monday night’s games are set for 5 p.m. Pacific time.