Tonight's Game: UC Santa Barbara vs. Utah State

Jan. 8, 2004

Santa Barbara, Calif. - Tonight UC Santa Barbara welcomes Utah State to the Thunderdome in Santa Barbara's third Big West game of the season. UCSB enters tonight's game with an overall record of 7-4 and a league mark of 1-1. Last week the Gauchos squandered a 20-point lead in their league opening game at Long Beach, but rebounded nicely with a victory over UC Irvine to land them in fourth place in the conference. Utah State enters tonight's game 9-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big West. The Aggies are currently in third place in the Big West and boast a fourth-place ranking in ESPN's Mid Major top-10 poll. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Santa Barbara's Thunderdome and the game will be broadcast on KTLK 1340 AM.

UC Santa Barbara Probable Starters
Starting in the backcourt for the Gauchos will be Jacoby Atako, Branduinn Fullove and Nick Jones. For the first time this year, the Thunderdome will see the three senior guards introduced as starters together once again, as Fullove and Jones are both completely back from pre-season complications. Atako will quarterback the team against the Aggies. The senior point guard is averaging 6.7 points per game and has gone 10-for-24 from the three-point line this season. He leads the Gauchos with 31 assists and 11 steals. Fullove, who recently moved into UC Santa Barbara's all-time Top 10 list in career scoring, is averaging 10.3 points per game. He has started the last four games and has begun to heat up offensively, however, he is struggling from behind the arc where his shooting percentage drops from .420 to .222. In the team's two league games, Fullove is the leading scorer with 13.5 points per game. Jones, who received honors himself by eclipsing the 1000-point mark, will likely be making his first start since returning from suspension. In the three games he has played in, he is averaging nine points in 23 minutes of action. Starting on the blocks for the Gauchos will be Cameron Goettsche and Casey Cook. Goettsche is averaging 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for Santa Barbara. In Monday's victory over UC Irvine, the sophomore scored 11 points and pulled down four rebounds. In Big West play, Goettsche leads the Gauchos in rebounding with an average of six boards a game. Cook has begun to slow down a bit after coming out on fire during pre-season play. The junior still leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, however, with the reintroduction of Fullove and Jones, some of the scoring pressure has been lifted from his shoulders. In conference play, Cook is averaging ten points and five rebounds per game.

Utah State Probable Starters
Starting in the backcourt for the Aggies will be senior guards Mark Brown and Cardell Butler. Brown is scoring 7.8 points per game and leads the team with 53 assists on the season. His average of 5.3 assists per game and his 2.52 assist to turnover ratio lead the Big West. Butler is averaging 14.8 points per game, but exploded last week against Idaho for 28 points. He currently ranks fourth in the league in scoring, fifth in field goal percentage (.578), and first in three-point percentage (.543). Starting on the blocks for USU will be juniors Jason Williams and Spencer Nelson. Williams is averaging 6.3 points and 2.2 rebounds per contest. He has been a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line so far this season. Nelson is the team's second leading scorer with an average of 11.4 points per game and the team's leading rebounder, grabbing 7.4 boards per game. Nelson is also averaging 3.2 assists per game. Starting at center for Utah State will be senior Mike Ahmad. Ahmad is scoring 7.6 points and grabbing 3.9 rebounds per game.

Scouting the Gauchos
Considering Utah State's 9-1 record, the Gauchos should play very well tonight. It has become apparent that this year's Santa Barbara team tends to increase the intensity and execution level when battling top-notch opponents. With the exception of the loss to Kansas, the Gauchos beat very good teams during the pre-season in Hawaii, Pepperdine, San Diego, and UCLA. Indeed league play began on a sour note with the disappointing loss in Long Beach, but the Gauchos responded in fashion with a victory over UC Irvine, consistently one of the top teams in the conference. Thus, tonight should be a battle. With the return of Jones and Fullove, the Gauchos are now more dangerous than ever from the guard position. Even when Coach Williams has to go to his bench, Santa Barbara rarely loses any ability in the backcourt. Aside from Atako, Fullove and Jones, Santa Barbara has Cecil Brown, Joe See, and Chrismen Oliver coming off the bench. Brown is the second leading scorer on the team during Big West play at ten points per game and throughout the pre-season, he has become accustomed to having the ball in his hands when the team needs points most. See has shot the lights out from behind the three-point line, making 19-of-46 three-pointers on the season, eight more than any other Gaucho. Oliver has done a good job behind Atako, dishing out 19 assists on the season. In past years, teams recognized Santa Barbara's dominance in the backcourt and forced the Gaucho forwards to beat them. This year, they're doing just that. Cook has played very well, leading the team in scoring and rebounding, while Goettsche follows close behind. Bryan Whitehead has been great off the bench and Bray Skultety has provided quality minutes as well. All in all, the Gauchos are very hard to defend at this point in the season. The team has its stars back and the role players are playing past their expectations.

Scouting the Aggies
So far Utah State has pretty much done everything well, as its 9-1 record would insinuate. Butler has been excellent offensively and Brown has become a true point guard. The Aggies lead the Big West in numerous statistics, both offensively and defensively. Most importantly, Utah State leads the league in scoring defense, allowing just 59.3 points per game. Clearly the team is defending well. USU also leads in rebounding margin, consistently pulling down 10.1 more rebounds than its opponents. On the offensive end of the floor, the Aggies lead the conference in scoring margin (+12.5), field goal percentage (.521), three-point field goal percentage (.429), and assists (16.7 apg). Clearly the team is scoring well. With the combination of good defense, strong rebounding, and great offense, it's not a surprise Utah State is 9-1, and currently the fourth ranked mid-major school in America.

Key Match Up
The key match-up for tonight's game will be Branduinn Fullove against Cardell Butler. Both seniors are leading their teams into league play, and both will be counted on to put the clamps on the other tonight. Butler had a tremendous game last week, scoring 28 points to lead the Aggies past Idaho. He was 10-of-11 from the floor and 6-of-7 from behind the arc. Fullove has come on as well, averaging 13.5 points in two league games and shooting 50% from the floor. Whoever comes away with the upper hand tonight may very well be victorious.

What To Look For
Look for a great game between two of the best teams the Big West has to offer. UC Santa Barbara and Utah State have won the last two regular season league championships and post-season tournaments, thus their regular season competitions seem to foreshadow what is to come in March. Santa Barbara has played up to the level of its competition this year, beating some very good teams, and Utah State enters the Thunderdome 9-1. Undoubtedly the game will be a battle until the final seconds and the winner could have an early season advantage throughout the rest of Big West play.