The reigning Big West Conference champions in men’s basketball are in trouble after falling to 0-3 in conference play this year. UCSB’s latest defeat was a 79-73 loss at the hands of the Cal State Fullerton Titans. The Gauchos currently sit in last place in the Big West, and their three conference losses have already tied their conference losses from last year. The Gauchos’ total record is 7-7, with every victory coming at the Thunderdome. UCSB has yet to win a game on the road, as they currently have a 0-6 road record. 

Joshua Yepez Martinez / Daily Nexus

The Gauchos began Big West play with an 85-83 overtime loss to the UC San Diego Tritons. This close defeat was followed by a 65-58 loss to Long Beach State. The Gauchos had an 8-point lead at the half against the Beach but gave up 39 points in the second half to eventually lose by 7.

UCSB has struggled on defense in the losing streak, having given up an average of 76.3 points. The defense will need to get back to 2021 levels if UCSB wants to remain competitive in the Big West this year.  

However, long stretches of not playing may be contributing to the Gauchos’ subpar play. The first three games of the new year for UCSB were canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks among the men’s basketball programs at UC Irvine, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal State Bakersfield. Without a consistent stretch of games to begin conference play, the Gauchos lacked the playing time to be consistent on defense.

The defense’s struggles continued against Cal State Fullerton. After the Gauchos allowed for the Titans to go on a 12-point run and tie the game at 39 points apiece, the Gauchos gave up 40 points in the second half. The Titans shot 51.9% from the field while also shooting over 50% from behind the 3-point line. The Gauchos shot 41.8% from the field and 43.5% from behind the arc. Overall, UCSB committed 13 turnovers, while the Titans had 18 of their own. 

Freshman guard Cole Anderson led the team with 21 points off the bench, and senior guard Ajare Sanni led all UCSB starters with 12 points. Senior guard Damari Milstead led all Titans in scoring with 21 points. The Titans only played two players off the bench, with one of them only playing for three minutes. For comparison, the Gauchos had six players come off the bench, with forward graduate Robinson Idehen playing for 21 minutes. Freshman guard E.J. Anosike played the entirety of the game for the Titans. 

The Gauchos will look to get their first conference win against Cal State Northridge on Jan. 25. The game will end a streak of ten days without a game played for the Gauchos, as games against UC Riverside and UC Davis had been canceled due to COVID-19. With a victory, the Gauchos’ record at home would improve to 8-1. 

A version of this article appeared on p. 7 of the Jan. 27, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.