Jan. 29, 2004
Santa Barbara, Calif. - Tonight UC Santa Barbara hosts UC Riverside in what is essentially a battle for third place in the Big West. Santa Barbara enters tonight's game with an overall record of 10-6 and a Big West mark of 4-3. The Gauchos are returning to the Thunderdome, where they hold a two-game winning streak, after getting crushed by Pacific last Saturday in Stockton. UCSB is currently tied with UC Irvine for third place in the Big West. UCR travels to Santa Barbara with an overall record of 6-9 and a league mark of 3-4. The Highlanders sit one game behind Santa Barbara in the standings, along with Long Beach State. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on KTLK 1340 AM.
UC Santa Barbara Probable Starters
After the pounding issued by Pacific last weekend, it would be no surprise to see fresh faces among those taking the court for the tip, however, seniors Jacoby Atako, Branduinn Fullove, and Nick Jones have proven their worth throughout their four year careers and will undoubtedly be there as the ball goes up. Atako, though not scoring much more than his career average, has made significant improvements on the offensive end of the floor. He is averaging 6.2 points per game, 5.6 in league play alone, and has dished out a team-high 41 assists. But what is most improved is his .500 field goal percentage. If this mark withstands the rest of the season, he will finish 15 points higher in percentage than his career mark at UCSB. Fullove struggled terribly against the Tigers producing just one point on 0-for-4 shooting from the floor, the lowest scoring output of his four-year career. However, Fullove is no stranger to bouncing back from adversity and will come out ready to get back into the scoring column against Riverside. The senior has scored 1,272 career points and needs just 80 more to move into sixth place all-time at UCSB. Jones was just about the only Gaucho that actually seemed to be playing in the loss to Pacific. He scored a season-high 14 points and led Santa Barbara in scoring for the first time this year. He also pulled down four rebounds and had two assists. The starting forwards have yet to be determined as junior Casey Cook is still recovering from a leg injury. Cook will probably come off the bench, which means senior Bryan Whitehead and sophomore Cameron Goettsche will get the start. Whitehead is scoring just 4.2 points per game on the season, but he has been one of Santa Barbara's most consistent rebounders, averaging 5.1 boards per game. He has had four or more rebounds in 11 of the 16 games so far this season. Goettsche is scoring 7.9 points per game, 9.0 in conference games, and is putting in time on the glass as well. He is pulling down 5.2 rebounds per game overall and an even five in Big West games.
UC Riverside Probable Starters
Starting in the backcourt for UC Riverside will be Mark Peters and Ricky Porter. Peters, a 5-foot-10 senior, is averaging six points, two rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. In last Saturday's win over Long Beach, he scored just two points on 1-of-5 shooting but he led the Highlanders with four assists. Porter, a 6-foot-3 junior, is averaging 7.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. He tied a career-high with 14 points in last week's win at Long Beach and also contributed three assists. Starting on the blocks for Riverside will be two guard/forwards, Nate Carter and Kevin Butler. Carter, the reigning Big West Freshman of the Year, is continuing right where he left off last year, leading UCR in both scoring and rebounding. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is averaging 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and has recorded two double-doubles on the season. Butler, a 6-foot-3 senior, is obviously undersized at the forward position, yet he is recording 11.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game on the season. Butler scored seven points in the game against Long Beach. Starting at center for UC Riverside will be Vili Morton. After red-shirting last season, Morton has come on strong for his junior campaign, scoring 10.8 points per game while pulling down 5.4 rebounds as well. Two games ago, in a loss to UC Irvine, Morton set Riverside's school record for blocked shot with 132.
Scouting the Gauchos
Scouting the Gauchos this season is just about as close to impossible as something can be. You never know which team is going to take the floor on any given night. It could be the team that upset UCLA, Hawaii and Pepperdine, or it could be the one that lost to Long Beach, Southwest Missouri State, and got demolished by Pacific. The fun doesn't stop there. It is impossible to tell who will do the scoring for Santa Barbara. If could be reigning Big West Player of the Year Branduinn Fullove putting the ball in the basket, or he could walk away with only one point. Or possibly it could be Casey Cook and Nick Jones that get the job done. Sometimes it may even be a role player like sharpshooter Joe See, but all of these guys have struggled in at least a couple of games this season. In all, the Gauchos have had seven players lead the team in scoring and nine have scored in double figures in at least one game. Indeed this makes for an extremely balanced team, but when the stars are aligned in the wrong manner, games like the one in Pacific happen. What remains more important than scoring is both defense and rebounding. If UCSB can out-rebound teams and beat them on the defensive end of the floor, enough points should be scored to earn victories. As a team, the Gauchos are outrebounding opponents by 5.2 rebounds per game. This should play a significant role tonight as Riverside starts a relatively short line-up, including forwards that are 6-7 and 6-3. Santa Barbara is holding opponents to .433 shooting from the floor and an even 33% from behind the three-point line.
Scouting the Highlanders
There are two important things to pay attention to when playing against UC Riverside: Nate Carter and Vili Morton. The two have led UCR to a fourth place ranking in Big West scoring offense, 71.2 points per game, and both are ranked in offensive categories. Indeed Butler, the only Highlander to start every game this season, has contributed to the stat sheet, but it's really Carter and Morton that creat opportunities for UCR on the offensive end of the floor. Carter is fifth in the league with his average of 14.8 points per game and his field goal percentage of 53.3% is good enough for seventh. Morton is fifth in the conference in field goal percentage at 56.3%. Clearly these two provide enough scoring punch to land UCR in fourth place in the Big West. The problem behind UCR's sub-.500 record is on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass. Riverside is allowing opponents to shoot 47%, 36% from behind the three-point line. The Highlanders are also being out-rebounded by almost five rebounds per game, a margin of -4.9. UC Riverside does have a good turnover margin, +3.0, second in the league to Cal State Northridge, but it has only resulted in an assist to turnover ratio of 1.0.
Key Match Up
The key-match up in tonight's game will come at the forward position. If Cook stays out with the injured leg, it will be up to Goettsche, Whitehead, and possibly Josh Davis to control Carter and Morton. Carter is the engine that makes the Highlanders go and Morton cleans up behind. The duo work well together so it will be essential for the Gaucho forwards to put the clamps on them defensively. This will start at the top, with Atako maintaining ball pressure, making it difficult to get the ball to Carter, but it will really come down to the forwards contesting his shots and boxing him out on every attempt. Davis does very well against athletic forwards so don't be surprised to see him get significant playing time if Cook is sitting on the sideline, dressed in street clothes.
What To Look For
Look for Santa Barbara to be thankful to get the loss to Pacific out of its system. Nothing would achieve that quicker than a victory at home over Riverside, so count on seeing the Gauchos come out with intensity. On the other hand, Riverside is playing well, coming off a win at the Pyramid in Long Beach, so look for them to try and ride that streak right into tonight's game and on to Cal Poly Saturday night.