With a postseason conference birth already clinched, the eighth-place UCSB men’s basketball team has a chance to improve its standing tonight when it hosts seventh-place Cal State Fullerton.
Santa Barbara enters the game with the eighth seed in next week’s Big West Tournament clinched with a 9-19 overall record and 5-11 mark in conference play. UCSB can help its cause by defeating the 14-15 Titans (6-10 Big West) and move into the seventh spot for the tournament.
“We’re just trying to keep momentum going and just trying to get in a rhythm before the Big West tournament,” junior guard Kyle Boswell said. “You never know what can happen in the tournament and if we’re playing well, I think we have a good shot at surprising some people.”
Saturday’s victory over Northridge snapped a four-game losing streak for the Gauchos and clinched their spot over the ninth place Matadors for the final spot in the tournament. With senior night looming, UCSB has a chance to end the regular season with a winning streak before March Madness commences.
“It’s important for us to build momentum going into the Big West Tournament,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “That’s what this weekend really provides, is an opportunity to hopefully get Nate back on the floor for senior night, to hopefully win two games and build momentum and have a three-game winning streak.”
The Gauchos must first face a dangerous Fullerton squad that has certainly given UCSB fits in the past. The Titans previously defeated UCSB 86-79 on their home floor to open conference play on Dec. 29 and were led by senior forward Sammy Yeager’s 30 points on 8-11 shooting from three-point range.
“They have some big time scorers on their team,” Boswell said. “We know that their strength is to score the basketball, so … we’ve got to contest shots on the defensive end and we’ll have a good shot at winning.”
Fullerton currently ranks first in the conference and eighth in the nation, averaging 78.4 points per game. Fullerton is capable of lighting up the scoreboard any night and features the second, third and eighth leading scorers in the conference in senior guards D.J. Seeley and Kwame Vaughn to compliment Yeager.
“They’re one of the top teams in the nation in terms of scoring the basketball,” Boswell said. “If we can limit their shot attempts and good shots that they get, we’ll be in good shape.”
UCSB has struggled with injuries for much of the season but is finally looking healthier with Boswell, sophomore center Alan Williams and junior forward Keegan Hornbuckle all returning from injury in the last few weeks. Guard Nate Garth, the team’s lone senior, returned to practice Tuesday and may return to the lineup in time for senior night Saturday.
Big Al will be the focus for the Gauchos’ offense tonight as Fullerton possesses a lineup full of capable scoring guards but lacks depth in the frontcourt.
“We’ve got to hurt them on the glass, hurt them inside, we need to make them pay for being undersized,” Coach Williams said. “We need to play to our advantage, which should be our strength and our size and how physical we should be inside.”
Tonight’s tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.