Fresh off an impressive 86-65 thrashing of UNLV on the road Tuesday night, the UCSB men’s basketball team will face another difficult test, this time in the form of visiting Utah State on Saturday.
Santa Barbara enters the game with a 2-0 record, while the Aggies come into their first road game of the season with a similar 2-0 mark on the year.
“It’s going to be a great test for us. We have about six potential top-25 and tournament teams this year [on our schedule] and Utah State is definitely one of them,” sophomore forward Taran Brown said. “Coming off that big win, we’re going to have a lot of energy and be fired up and ready to go. I think we’ve just got to play the same way we did and it’s going to come out good for us.”
Both of UCSB’s victories this season have come by more than 20-point margins as the Gauchos defeated Hawaii Pacific 76-50 in the first game of the year.
Tuesday’s win featured a dominant offensive attack that featured a number of players sharing the wealth. Junior center Alan Williams led UCSB with 21 points and nine rebounds, while senior guard Kyle Boswell scored 19 points after finishing 5-7 from the three-point line.
“It was definitely a great victory, especially to get a win on the road. For a lot of the new guys, it was obviously their first test on the road,” Boswell said. “We came together as a team and we moved the ball in such an unselfish manner that everybody was able to get involved pretty early in the game.”
Williams leads UCSB this season averaging 24 points and 13 rebounds per game, marks that both rank first in the Big West. Boswell, meanwhile, has served as a strong second option averaging 14.5 points per game and is shooting just over 57 percent from behind the arc.
Aiding the duo for the Gauchos is a pair of sophomores in guard Michael Bryson and Taran Brown. Bryson ranks third on the team with 11 points per game. Brown has averaged eight points per game and is second on the squad with seven boards per contest.
“Teams are scouting us and they know they have to double-team Al. If that’s the case, that’s one kick out … and we have open shots like nothing,” Brown said. “Once that double team is down there, the defense is out of position. Me, Michael and Bos, we’ve got to be ready to get good shots up because once that double team comes, one of us will be open.”
Guiding the Gauchos from the point is a pair of newcomers to the team in junior Zalmico Harmon and freshman Eric Childress. Harmon has nine assists, averaging 5.5 per game, but has yet to commit a turnover on the season. Childress meanwhile showed flashes of brilliance on Tuesday finishing with nine points and six assists.
One area of concern for UCSB, however, is the loss of sophomore guard John Green to a foot injury. Expected to be out anywhere from three to six weeks, Green scored eight points in the team’s first game this season before sitting out the UNLV game with injury. His versatility with the ability to shoot from the perimeter and back down smaller guards in the post will be missed by UCSB over the coming weeks.
“The absence of John Green means we have to come together more as a team,” Boswell said. “We have so many weapons already on our squad that the key for us is moving the ball and getting everyone involved, which makes it hard for the other team to guard. Everyone on our team has to be ready to fill that role.”
Utah State, meanwhile, has proven dangerous this season, defeating Pac-12 opponent USC 78-65 before demolishing Southern Utah by a score of 90-57. Senior center Jared Shaw leads the Aggies averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game, and he will provide a formidable opponent for Big Al in the post.
With expectations high for Santa Barbara this season, the Gauchos have looked like a strong unit, albeit in a small sample size. Saturday will be another litmus test as to just how good UCSB is this early in the season.
“We’re coming together as a team really well. We have so much talent on this team that at any given point anyone can kind of take over the game,” Boswell said. “We’re looking for our mistakes and making corrections pretty quickly, which is what you want to be for a mature team to grow up and be able to make a deep run in the tournament later in the season.”
Tip-off Saturday against Utah State is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Mark Brocher of the Daily Nexus.