The UCSB men’s basketball team faces Hawaii tonight in Manoa in its second to last game of the regular season. Riding a season-high three-game conference win streak, the Gauchos face a Hawaii team that nearly defeated them at the Thunderdome the last time these two played.
“They’re the most athletic team in the league,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They turn you over, they scramble the game up.”
UCSB has managed only three road wins on the year. However, they have all come at the expense of league opponents. Coming off wins against the top two teams in the Big West in UC Davis and UC Irvine, Santa Barbara’s mark currently stands at 9-5 in conference and 16-12 overall. The team is one game behind UCI for second place in league.
“We’re starting to roll a little bit on teams, and it’s just good for chemistry going forward,” junior forward Mitch Brewe said. “In a little over a week we have the Big West Tournament, so it’s good to get some momentum going into these upcoming weeks.”
Hawaii, a team that battled early season adversity with the firing of its head coach and withdrawal of Preseason Big West First-Team forward Isaac Fotu, stands at 7-7 in conference and 19-11 overall. UH is locked in a tie for fifth place with UC Riverside.
Santa Barbara defeated the Rainbow Warriors earlier on the season 75-74 in a game Hawaii would like to have back. In that contest, the Gauchos trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, but used the three-ball to claw their way back and take the lead.
UH thought the game was headed to overtime after freshman guard Isaac Fleming knocked down a game-tying three with one second left. However, referees concluded after looking at instant replay that Fleming had his foot on the line, leaving the Rainbow Warriors with a one-point loss.
UCSB’s leading scorer, senior center Alan “Big Al” Williams, missed out on the previous encounter since he was still recovering from a shoulder injury. Since his return, he has played like his usual self, recording double-doubles in three of his last four games. At 11.7 rebounds per game, Big Al leads the league in rebounds.
“Big Al is a large man, and he has an incredible knack for getting the ball,” Brewe said. “The way he sheds defenders and sheds other guys on the court to get the rebounds is incredible.”
While the Gauchos have had their struggles on the road, the Rainbow Warriors have lost only two conference games at home. UCSB will also have to go up against the added intensity Hawaii will bring, given tonight’s game will be Senior Night for UH.
This will be the final road game for Santa Barbara before it closes out the season at home against rival Cal Poly Saturday. With the Big West Tournament next week, the Gauchos take aim at finishing with momentum.
“It’s not so much of seeding, every team in this league is good. Getting a lower seed might just be a sleeper game just like it was last year,” freshman guard Gabe Vincent said. “But it’s definitely just playing, seeing how well we execute and getting ourselves ready for what’s next.”
Tonight’s game is set for 9 p.m.