Arguably the most talented squad in the Big West, the UCSB men’s basketball team embarks on a three-month journey to showcase its skill as it begins conference play on Saturday. Santa Barbara comes into the game with much excitement, as it will host rival Cal Poly in the first installment of the Blue-Green rivalry and a chance to further the recent dominance over the Mustangs.

UCSB enters the rivalry game with a 9-4, winners of three straight games and six of its last seven. The Gauchos, while splitting the series with Cal Poly last season, has won six of the last seven matchups and 11 of the last 13, holding a 69-32 advantage all-time.

“I’m really excited. Cal Poly is a great team and I feel like we’ve done a lot of work and preparation to get to this point where we can play a game of this magnitude,” junior point guard Zalmico Harmon said. “We’re really pumped, we’ve been talking about it and focusing on it all week. We’re just dialed in and ready to play and compete.”

Santa Barbara opens conference play as the odds on favorites to win the Big West this season and has garnered national attention for its play this season. The Gauchos are ranked No. 14 in the Mid-Major Top-25 poll and maintain a No. 39 RPI ranking according to ESPN

Much of Santa Barbara’s success comes with the superb play of junior center Alan Williams, who ranks fourth in the nation in scoring at 23.5 points per game, 12th in rebounds at 10.7 per game, and 37th in blocks with 2.64 per game.

“Big Al, he’s just a great talent, a skill player. Practically from everyone I’ve seen in the nation he’s pretty unstoppable,” Harmon said. “It’s a great asset having him. Maybe the best in the nation as far as a passer and scorer out of the post.”

The Gauchos have had a long week of practice and rest in preparation for the Mustangs. UCSB last defeated The Master’s College 81-52 on Jan. 4, but Saturday’s game will provide much stiffer competition.

Cal Poly began conference play with a 77-65 victory over Hawaii at home improving the Mustangs to 5-9 overall and 1-0 in the Big West. Despite finishing the non-conference portion of the schedule with a 4-9 record, Cal Poly certainly will come to play against its rival. The Mustangs faced the 25th toughest non-conference schedule and is certainly tested enough for conference play.

“They’re a very physical team and their preseason doesn’t really reflect their actual performance,” Harmon said. “We just need to come and bring it every second because they’re going to come out as if we we’re the number one team in the nation and we’re going to come out as if they were [the number one team]. It’s going to be a very physical and hard fought game.”

Saturday’s contest against rival Cal Poly is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in the Thunderdome.


This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.

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