January 3, 2004

Tonight's Game: UC Santa Barbara at Long Beach State

Jan. 3, 2004

Santa Barbara, Calif. - Tonight UC Santa Barbara tips off league play against Long Beach State. The Gauchos enter Big West competition with a 6-3 record that includes pre-season victories over Hawaii, Pepperdine, and UCLA. The 49ers enter league play with a 2-7 record but have defeated the Gauchos the last two times the teams met in Long Beach's Pyramid. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on KTLK 1340 AM.

UC Santa Barbara Probable Starters
Although Santa Barbara has its full roster for the first time this season, the starting lineup will still have a few variations, until everybody is up to game speed. Starting in the backcourt will be seniors Jacoby Atako and Branduinn Fullove, along with sophomore Josh Davis. The Gauchos anticipate Nick Jones' return to the starting five, but Coach Williams will be easing him back in slowly and a start for him tonight is doubtful. Atako has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride offensively, averaging 6.7 points per game. In three games Atako has exploded for 13, 23, and 13 points, the 23 becoming a career high, yet he has struggled in the other games, leaving his scoring average at 6.7. But where Atako is most valuable is on the defensive end of the floor. The reigning Big West Player of the Year has made a career out of shutting down opposing guards and he is continuing with his dominance this year. Fullove returned to the Gauchos lineup against the University of San Diego but he didn't actually return until the game against Alabama State. It took him a couple games to get back into playing shape, and when he did, he scored the first twelve points against Alabama State and led UCSB to victory finishing 8-of-12 from the floor for a total of 23 points. Davis has been a savior to the backcourt for Santa Barbara considering the absence of Fullove and Jones during the pre-season. He leads the team in minutes played with 247 and he is averaging just over seven points per game. On the blocks for the Gauchos will be sophomore Cameron Goettsche and junior Casey Cook. Goettsche, like Atako, has had his ups-and-downs during the first part of the season. The 6-foot-8 high-flyer is clearly Santa Barbara's most explosive player, having the ability to get to the rim on every play, but sometimes it seems as though that's a game time decision whether or not he wants to contribute offensively. He too is averaging just over seven points per contest and is second on the team with an average of 5.4 rebounds per game. Cook has emerged as the best offensive weapon for UCSB throughout the beginning of the season. Not including Jones' 12 points in one performance, Cook leads the Gauchos with 11.6 points per game. He also leads the team in rebounding with 5.9 boards per contest, and when Santa Barbara needs a big shot, the ball undoubtedly makes it into his hands. He drilled the three-pointer to beat Pepperdine and calmly sunk two free throws to upset UCLA for the first time in school history.

Long Beach State Probable Starters
Starting in the backcourt for Long Beach will be sophomores Jibril Hodges and Louis Darby, along with freshman Kevin Houston. Hodges leads the guards with 9.8 points per game. In the team's loss to Colgate, December 30, Hodges scored nine points and was 3-of-5 from three-point territory. Darby is averaging 4.8 points per game on the season and also scored nine points against Colgate. In the last two games, he has averaged eight points. Houston is scoring 4.3 points per game and is dishing out 2.7 assists. He leads the team with 24 assists on the season. Starting on the blocks for LBSU will be seniors Kevin Roberts and Marcel Jackson. Roberts has been the go-to guy for the 49ers throughout the season thus far. He is averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Against Colgate Roberts scored a season-high 24 points and notched his fourth double-double of the year. Jackson, 6-9, 290, is clearly the most imposing figure of the 49ers' starting five. He is averaging 5.6 points per game and 4.3 rebounds. He has specialized in hitting the offensive glass for Long Beach as 25 of his 39 total rebounds have come on the offensive end of the floor.

Scouting the Gauchos
As UC Santa Barbara becomes a full squad again, it will become more and more difficult to really scout the Gauchos. The options offensively are becoming more numerous with the return of Fullove and Jones, and both add depth defensively. At this point in the season, the first player that must be accounted for is clearly Casey Cook. Cook has paced the Gauchos throughout the beginning of the season and he gains confidence with every game. When the Gauchos were underdogs against UCLA, Cook came out aggressively and eventually won the game by making two free throws and grabbing a lose ball and chucking it down court to run out the clock. And when Santa Barbara was clearly out-matched by a stronger Kansas team, Cook was the only player who looked as though he came to play regardless of the Kansas ambiance, leading the team with 16 points in 27 minutes of action. Now that Fullove is back and moving like the Fullove we all know, he will contribute more on the offensive end as well. Poised to become one of the top-ten scoring leaders in UCSB history, Fullove will be paid close attention to by Long Beach. As a team, the Gauchos are doing two things well entering league play. Santa Barbara has been very impressive on the glass, pulling down 3.4 more rebounds per game than its opponents. This is an impressive stat considering the team has played the likes of UCLA, Kansas, Pepperdine, and Hawaii, all considerably tall teams. The other area UCSB has shown promise is defensively, holding teams to a shooting percentage of .415 and a three-point percentage of .327. The combination of good defense, solid rebounding, and an improving offense, should hold well for UC Santa Barbara as Big West play gets underway.

Scouting the 49ers
Senior Kevin Roberts is the biggest offensive threat for Long Beach as he is scoring 15.4 points per game. He is the only 49er to be averaging double digits in scoring and his 15.4 mark places him sixth in the Big West. He also leads the team and the conference with 8.6 rebounds per game. Assisting Roberts on the offensive end is sophomore guard, Jibril Hodges. Hodges is averaging 9.6 points per game and is a capable three-point shooter. As a team, the 49ers rank third in the Big West in rebounding with 37.2 rebounds per game, and first with 15.25 offensive rebounds per contest. Coach Larry Reynolds definitely understands the importance of rebounding and this should make for a good battle down low with Santa Barbara. Long Beach has improved in other areas as well. LBSU started the season turning the ball over 20+ times a game, but during the last five games, that total has dropped to 15. Additionally, the 49ers are lowering opponents' shooting percentages as the season progresses and the average is now down to .436

Key Match Up
Leading the way offensively for both UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State have been two talented forwards, Casey Cook and Kevin Roberts. Both have led their teams in scoring throughout the pre-season and will continue to be primary options during league play. Undoubtedly the two will spend time matched up against one another tonight and it should turn out to be an exciting competition both in the scoring column, on the defensive end, and on the glass.

What To Look For
Look for a healthy Santa Barbara team to begin conference play with the goal of backing up its Big West pre-season No.1 ranking. The Gauchos completed a successful pre-season schedule going undefeated at home and beating quality opponents like Hawaii, Pepperdine, and most importantly, UCLA. Also, look for Long Beach to enter league play refreshed, after struggling during the pre-season. The ticket to the Big Dance for most Big West schools will come through a league championship, and as of today, everybody is tied at 0-0.