As the youngest team in the Big West, the UCSB men’s basketball team has shown it can compete with the top teams in the conference. However, as injuries have piled up this season, the Gauchos have had to play at times without some of their top players and are currently battling for a spot in the postseason tournament.
No game may be more important to that cause than Saturday’s rivalry game on the road against Cal Poly as the Gauchos try for their seventh consecutive victory over their rival. UCSB enters the Blue-Green rivalry game with an 8-15 overall record and 4-8 mark in the Big West, while Cal Poly holds an 11-11 record and is 7-5 in conference play.
“We’re battling for playoffs and we’ve dug a hole, and so the only way to get out of holes is by smacking together wins,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “It’d be big for us to be able to go up there and get a road win.”
In its most recent game, Santa Barbara beat Pacific 66-53 to snap a five-game losing streak in which the average margin of defeat was fewer than five points. Earlier in the season, UCSB defeated Cal Poly in an 83-81 double-overtime thriller. Emotions can certainly be expected to be running high when these two teams face off again on Saturday.
“We got some good practices this week, and even though we have a lot of injuries, I feel like a lot of guys are going to be healthy and ready to go by this weekend,” junior guard Kyle Boswell said. “Coming off a big win against Pacific, I feel like we’ve got some momentum rolling and a lot of us are starting to understand what it’s going to take to get some more wins and go on a winning streak in the next few games.”
Last time out against the Mustangs, Boswell hit what would become a game-winning three-point play with 12 seconds left and scored the Gauchos final six points. Boswell is currently second on the team, averaging 13 points per game, and has switched roles much of the season between a starter and the sixth man.
“We know playing them the first time that Cal Poly is a scrappy team and they’re talented,” Boswell said. “We’re going to have to bring a high energy level and execute at a high level in order to beat them.”
UCSB may be without its star player in sophomore center Alan Williams who sprained his right ankle in the first half of the Pacific game. Williams has missed three games this season due to an injury to his hamstring, an injury that first occurred in that double-overtime victory against Cal Poly.
“He’s moving around a lot better than he did when he got hurt last weekend,” Boswell said. “I can tell things are getting better, so it’d be great if he’s available for this Saturday, but if not, we’ll be ready regardless and we’ll have a chance to win whatever his status is.”
With the possibility UCSB will be without its star player, the Gauchos might have to rely on freshman forward Sam Beeler to fill in for Big Al. Beeler has come on strong as of late, playing a career-high 23 minutes against Pacific in which he scored six points and grabbed four boards. Another player UCSB will rely on is junior forward Shawn Moore, a walk-on in his first season as a Gaucho.
“That’s going to be huge because we’re going to need depth,” Boswell said. “We’ll be ready to go. Cal Poly is a good team and if we don’t all come together and basically contribute individually in order to make our team better, we’re not going to get this win this weekend.”
Cal Poly is coming off two straight victories over Pacific and UC Davis, and will end a three-game homestand Saturday. Overall, UCSB has won 11 of the last 12 meetings against Cal Poly and owns the all-time series record 69-31.
The Mustangs are led by junior forward Chris Eversley, who is first on the team in scoring with 15.4 points per game and the only player to average double figures for Cal Poly.
A pair of freshmen in forward Taran Brown and guard Michael Bryson will also be pivotal in Saturday’s matchup, as each has shown flashes of brilliance this season for the Gauchos. Brown is third on the team averaging 12.1 points and Bryson is fourth at 6.9 points per game. In his last three games, however, Bryson is averaging 12.7 points and six rebounds per contest.
“Everybody needs to step up,” Coach Williams said. “Injuries are not an excuse, it’s just what happens and it creates opportunities for other guys.”
Saturday’s Blue-Green rivalry game is scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m. at Cal Poly’s Mott Athletics Center.