March 1, 2003
Tonight the UCSB men's basketball team takes on UC Irvine who leads the Big West by half a game. Santa Barbara rebounded against Long Beach after losing two straight to Cal Poly and Detroit. Now the Gauchos (14-12 and 11-4) are three wins away from becoming regular season champs, something that hasn't happened in Santa Barbara since Coach Williams took over. Irvine (18-7, and 12-4) is coming off a victory over Cal Poly and has won seven straight games. The game will be played in UCSB's Thunderdome and will be broadcast on KEYT 1250.
UCSB Probable Starting Lineup:
Starting in the backcourt for the Gauchos will be Jacoby Atako, Branduinn Fullove and Nick Jones. Atako scored seven points and dished out a team high five assists in Thursday's win over Long Beach. On the season, Atako is averaging five points per game and he leads the team in assists and steals. Fullove led all scorers in the game against Long Beach with 11 points, all coming after a nasty collision at half court that many thought would cause him to miss the rest of the game. In typical Fullove fashion, he bounced back and led the offensive unit for the third time in four games. The other guard will be Nick Jones who scored eight points in 22 minutes against Long Beach. Jones is the third leading scorer for the Gauchos at 12.4 points per game. Last week against Cal Poly he notched his third twenty-plus point game as he led Santa Barbara with 22. On the blocks for UCSB will be Mark Hull and Casey Cook. Hull scored ten points against Long Beach going 3-for-7 from the field. His shooting woes seem to be going away but he is definitely not yet the Mark Hull of old. Hopefully he will catch fire again soon, preferably tonight, as this is likely the most important game this season for Santa Barbara. The other forward will be Casey Cook, who will work in rotation with Bryan Whitehead. Cook scored seven points and pulled down six rebounds against Long Beach, his highest rebounding total since January. Cook has been splitting minutes with Whitehead who is playing much better basketball now than he was during the beginning of the season. Cook is averaging 5.4 points per game and Whitehead is at 3.2.
UC Irvine Probable Starting Lineup:
Starting in the backcourt for the Anteaters will be freshman Jeff Gloger and senior Mike Hood. Gloger is averaging eight points per game and is also a very strong rebounder pulling down 4.1 boards per game. Defensively, Gloger is a gem leading the Big West in steals at 2.8 per contest. Hood is averaging ten points per game for Irvine and is pulling down two rebounds as well. In league games only, Hood leads the Big West in free throw percentage, 90.5%, and he is second in three-point shooting percentage at .456. The forwards for the Anteaters will be senior Jordan Harris and junior Stanislav Zuzak. Harris is the leading scorer for UCI averaging 12.1 points per game. Thursday night against Cal Poly, Harris led the team with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He was 5-for-11 from the floor and connected on eight of ten free throws. Zuzak has been in and out of the lineup for the Anteaters. He is scoring eight points per game and is pulling down 2.8 rebounds. The center for Irvine will be Adam Parada. Parada, a seven-foot junior, is averaging 12 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with just fewer than six boards per game.
Scouting the Anteaters:
UC Irvine is riding high right now coming to town with a seven game winning streak, not to mention, 10 wins in the last 13 games. Unlike many of the teams in the Big West, Irvine is extremely balanced on the offensive end of the floor. Jordan Harris leads the team in scoring at 12.1 points per game but Adam Parada is right there behind him at 12. Therefore, the Gauchos cannot afford to key on one single player, it is going to have to be a total team effort. Irvine's stats look like those of any other team that is 17 and 7. The Anteaters are scoring about 70 points a game and they limit their opponents to 64. Their team field goal percentage is about 45% and they can shoot the rock from behind the three-point line, especially Mike Hood. Hood has drained 42 of 102 threes this season. Hood seems to be as pure of a shooter as they come knocking down a staggering 92% of his free throws as well. Irvine also rebounds better than their opponents, turns the ball over fewer times and gets more assists, blocks and steals on a regular basis. There is really nothing else you can say other then Irvine is a very good basketball team. The place for the Gauchos to start is down low. The committee of players that will be guarding the basket, Hull, Cook and Whitehead, need to keep Parada and Zuzak off the glass. Santa Barbara must rebound at least as well as the Anteaters if the Gauchos want to come away with a win. Additionally, the team defense needs to be at its peak as Irvine is a team that does a high amount of scoring. UCSB must force the Anteaters into taking bad shots and they must keep Hood from draining threes from outside. If this happens and if somebody steps up on the offensive end to bring in some points, the Gauchos have the ability to move themselves into first place.
Scouting the Gauchos:
The convincing win against Long Beach should get the Gauchos back on track. There were many good aspects of the win against the 49ers and this should be the game that gets UCSB out of its rut. The balanced scoring against Long Beach was a good sign going into the last two weeks of the season. Hull and Fullove appear to be getting back to their top form while the role players are stepping up a bit too. Whitehead is playing like a new man down low, ripping down rebounds and drop stepping to the hoop with authority. Cecil Brown consistently comes off the bench to ignite the offense and Josh Davis can always be counted on to drill the 19-foot jumper. Nick Jones is getting his shot back and if the Gauchos want to win, he needs to be more willing to take it. Of the starters, Jones has the best three-point percentage so it is important he gets his shots from downtown. The team defense appears to be clicking again as well. Long Beach was held to just 46 points, despite knocking down a number of threes. Indeed the 49ers aren't the best scoring team in the conference, but there was a definite increase in defensive intensity on the part of Santa Barbara. It seems that every time Coach Williams moves the team into the pressure zone they respond with a fury of takeaways and easy buckets. Look for this zone to be in full effect any time the Gauchos have a chance to pull away or whenever Irvine looks to be making a run. Lastly, the mentality of the team demonstrates an understanding of the importance of tonight's game. Everybody knows that this game could very well determine the final standings in the Big West Conference and the players know that it is up to them to place themselves at the top.
The key match-up in tonight's game will be the Gaucho big man rotation against the Irvine trees, 7'0" Adam Parada and 6'10" Stanislav Zuzak. Casey Cook will start on one of the two and Mark Hull will be responsible for the other but newfound fan favorite Bryan Whitehead will also see time off the bench. The main issue with the Irvine big men will be rebounding. Parada does score his fair amount but what is most important is his ability to board and get second chance points for the Anteaters. The Gaucho guards will help in the task by doubling down and scrambling across the court to disrupt, but it will be up to Cook, Hull and Whitehead to keep them off the boards and keep them out of he scoring column as best as possible.
What to look for:
Look for a great game played by the two best teams in the Big West Conference. Both teams know what is at stake, a victory for either will likely earn them the top spot in the Big West Tournament and the recognition of winning the league, so both teams will play their tails off. The Gauchos shed their midseason rust against Long Beach and are officially ready to make a run while Irvine is definitely on a run of its own. There is little doubt both teams will come out intense as this game basically decides the future.