March 14, 2003
Tonight the UCSB men's basketball plays in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament against Cal Poly. Santa Barbara is coming off a narrow 53-44 victory over Pacific and Cal Poly is playing after beating Idaho. The winner of tonight's game will advance to the championship game of Saturday Night against the winner of the UC Irvine v. Utah State game. Tonight's game will be played at the Anaheim Convention Center and will be broadcast on KEYT 1250.
UCSB Probable Starting Lineup:
The UC Santa Barbara starting lineup for tonight's game will be littered with winners of Big West accolades. Starting at the point guard position will be Big West Defensive Player of the Year Jacoby Atako. Atako was the leading man in all UCSB's most impressive defensive showings, continuously shutting down the best guards in the conference. He powered the defense that held opponents to 56.1 points per game during conference play. In yesterday's game against Pacific, Atako was held scoreless on 0-4 shooting. Alongside Atako will be Big West Player of the Year Branduinn Fullove and Co-Big West Hustle Player of the Year Nick Jones. Fullove earned the top honors by leading the Gauchos in scoring at 15.3 points per game. He shot 48% from the floor and connected on 42% of his three-point baskets. Fullove was also a guarantee from the free throw line where he cashed in on 100 of his 121 free throw attempts. Fullove was the leading scorer against Pacific with a game high 20 points. He connected on four three-pointers and drilled all six of his free throws. Jones earned his award by consistently providing a spark with his intensity on defense and his streaky yet potent offensive showings. He is currently third on the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game and he leads the starters in field goal and three-point shooting percentage by connecting on 49.8% of his field goals and 43% of his treys. Jones dropped in six points against Pacific but pulled down a team high seven rebounds. On the blocks for the Gauchos will be Big West First Team member Mark Hull and sophomore Casey Cook. Hull made the first team for his second time in two years and with the honor he becomes the first Gaucho in 29 years to earn first-team all-league honors twice. Further, this is the third time Hull made an all-league team as he was a member of the second-team during his sophomore season. He is averaging a steady 13 points on the season and leads the team in rebounding with 4.9 boards per game. Against the Tigers, Hull scored 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the floor. Cook finished the regular season with a scoring average of 5.3 points per game. He is pulling down 3.6 rebounds per game and is shooting a 45% from the floor.
Cal Poly Probable Starting Lineup:
Starting in the backcourt for the Mustangs will be senior guards Jason Allen and Steve Geary. Allen is the only player for Cal Poly who has started and played in every single game this season. He is averaging 12 points per game and is leading the team in assists, dishing out 2.7 per contest. Allen also leads the team in minutes per game staying on the court for an average of 33.8 per game. Geary, a 5'11" senior from Oklahoma, is averaging 8.3 points per game for the Mustangs and is pulling down two rebounds as well. He has snatched 27 steals on the season and has been reliable from the free throw line connecting on 82% of his freebies. The starting forwards for the Mustangs will be juniors Shane Shilling and Varnie Dennis along with senior Jered Patterson. Schilling is second on the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game and in rebounding with 5.8 per outing. Varnie Dennis has been the man for the Mustangs this season. He is leading the team in numerous statistical categories including points, rebounds, and blocks. Dennis is scoring 17.4 points per game and is pulling down 7.3 rebounds. Dennis's 17.4 points per game placed him second in the Big West in scoring and his 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game led the conference. Patterson is scoring 4.2 points per game and is getting 4.1 rebounds as well.
Scouting the Mustangs:
Cal Poly enters tonight's game after narrowly slipping by Idaho in the late minutes of their game yesterday. Steve Geary drilled two free throws with five seconds remaining to seal the deal for the Mustangs. As a team Cal Poly is scoring 69 points per game, as compared to Santa Barbara's 65.5. Indeed Cal Poly has a lower shooting percentage from all areas of the floor but it manages to pull down six more rebounds and block three more shots per game then the Gauchos. Despite the 69 points per game on the season for the Mustangs, 70 seems to be the magic number. When Cal Poly scores at least 70 points they are 9-2, yet when they score less then 70, they are 5-11. As is the case in most of the Big West contests, defense will again be the key to victory for UCSB. The leading scorer for Poly is Varnie Dennis, the 6'8" junior, forward. Dennis has the size and ability to score down low, demonstrating an array of post moves, however, he is also a threat from behind the three-point arc. On the season Dennis has cashed in on 27 three-pointers on 35.5% shooting from beyond he three-point line. Aside from Dennis, Shilling is really the only other Mustang that is an all around threat. Shilling can also score down low and has the ability to hit from downtown too. Outside, Jason Allen is definitely the man to guard as he has stroked a team-high 58 three-pointers. When not shooting the trey, Allen can be found at the free throw line where he has connected on 85% of his free throws.
Scouting the Gauchos:
Coming into tonight's game, an opponent might possibly be disturbed by the fact that Santa Barbara has the Big West Player of the Year, the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, one of the Big West's Hustle Players of the Year, and an All-Big West First-Team member starting for them. Not to mention the Big West's Coach of the Year in Bob Williams. On paper, it looks like nothing other then a perfect combination of players and coaches. As has been the trend all season, the defense will set the tone today, and Jacoby Atako will be at the forefront. The Gauchos will bounce around between defenses trying to confuse the Mustangs and throw them different looks considering the teams have already seen each other twice this season. Expect to see pressure zones and presses as well as the occasional intense man-to-man defense. Offensively, UCSB will do its best to get the ball into the hands of the big three, Branduinn Fullove, Mark Hull, and Nick Jones. Each of these scorers is averaging about 12 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. They contribute 62% of the team's total offense and at least one of the three has lead the team in scoring in 28 of 29 games. Count on seeing some production from the bench as well with backup point guard Chrismen Oliver and freshman phenoms Cecil Brown and Josh Davis. Brown and Davis both narrowly missed selections to the Big West All-Freshman team after accounting for 11 points per game between the two. Additionally, both play outstanding defense and can be counted on to lift the team offensively and defensively once they enter the game.
The key to tonight's game will be Santa Barbara's ability to control Varnie Dennis. Hull will likely start on him but it will be hard to tell as Gauchos from all over the court will attack him as soon as he touches the ball. Cook will probably see some time on him and Whitehead will as well. If all goes well, Dennis will have a hard time keeping up with all the Gauchos that surround him as Santa Barbara will double down every time he touches the ball, looking to disrupt and cause turnovers.
What to look for:
Look for a very good game with much higher shooting percentages than were displayed in the game against Pacific. Hopefully yesterday's game got the jitters out for the Gauchos and now they are ready to make their run to the championship. Look for Fullove to continue to lead the high powered offense and Atako to anchor the defense that had the ability to hold Pacific to a 32.6 shooting percentage.