As one of the youngest teams in the nation, it is expected that the UCSB men’s basketball team will take time to regain its spot atop the Big West conference. After starting the season with two losses on the road, the Gauchos will host Masters College on Saturday in the team’s home opener.
UCSB fell to LSU and Illinois State on the road to open up the regular season and enters Saturday night’s game with a 0-2 record for the first time since the 2002- 2003 season.
“I think in the last two games, we realized that we’ve got to bring up the toughness level and the aggression,” junior guard Kyle Boswell said. “Illinois State exposed us big time, and watching the tape earlier this week, it was pretty evident that we need to pick up the tempo and just straight up play harder than the other team.”
After losing to LSU 77-63 in the opening game, Santa Barbara fell to Illinois State on Monday by a score of 100-72. While the Gauchos were certainly able to score the ball, defense was a major concern for the team and a main point of emphasis in practice this week.
“What we take away is that it exposed a lot of weaknesses,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “It got the team’s attention, the coaching staff ’s attention. We’re all very aware of where we need to improve and where the weaknesses are.”
In Masters College, UCSB faces an NAIA opponent entering the game with a 3-1 record. The Mustangs host UC Merced Friday before traveling to take on a Gaucho squad that has won its last 11 regular season home openers.
“The guys should be hungry to get back out there and play,” Coach Williams said. “It’s important for us to go out and gain some confidence and make some improvements in some areas where we were very dissatisfied in.” One of those areas the Gauchos feel they
must address is turnovers. “With the talent level we have, we can
score the ball. But when you turn it over 23 times at LSU and 20 times at Illinois State, you can’t win many games like that,” Boswell said. “We’ve just got to take care of the ball and find times to be aggressive offensively, and then I feel like the offense will come.”
Boswell led UCSB in scoring against LSU with 17 points, while sophomore center Alan Williams recorded 14 points and a team-high six rebounds. Williams recorded a double-double for Santa Barbara against Illinois State with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“We’re a really talented offensive unit. We’ve got a lot of guys that can go out there and score,” Al Williams said. “But if we can’t stop anybody and can’t take care of the ball, we won’t be able to use that to our advantage.”
Santa Barbara features seven freshmen who figure to receive consistent playing time, with freshman forward Taran Brown leading the group thus far, putting forth career-highs with 22 points and six assists against Illinois State.
“He was much better, he got into a little rhythm and he became a much more efficient offensive player,” Coach Williams said. “We know what he is capable of, so it’s really good to see him break out and score like that.”
Despite starting the season with two losses, UCSB can now address those areas of concern in practice and in the upcoming games before conference play.
“We were extremely disappointed in our effort defensively. We have to get way more physical, way more disciplined,” Coach Williams said. “We’re just going to have to spend a lot of extra time in practice defensively for the next three weeks to a month.”
Masters College meanwhile averages over 70 points per game in its four contests, a number UCSB will look to drastically cut down on Saturday.
“We go out there and treat them like a D-1 opponent every time,” Al Williams said.“We game plan for them the same way, we scout them the same way, we really go out there and treat it like it’s a division one basketball game. In all honesty, if we take that L, it’s a bad loss.”
Tip-off for Saturday’s home opener is set for 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 4 of November 16, 2012’s print edition of the Nexus.