Tonight's Game: UC Santa Barbara vs. San Diego State

March 19, 2003

Tonight the UCSB men's basketball team takes on the Aztecs of San Diego State in the opening round of the Owens Corning National Invitational Tournament. After losing to Cal Poly in the Big West Conference semi-finals, many thought chances of post season play for the Gauchos had slipped away, but Coach Williams was given the opportunity to accept a bid to the NIT and now UCSB is playing in the post season for the second time in two years. This is the fourth time that Santa Barbara has entered the NIT, previously losing all three first round games. Tonight's game will be held at San Diego State's Cox Arena 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, who was chosen as the Big West Defensive Player of the Year last week, enters tonight's game averaging 4.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. More importantly, he leads the team with 3.1 assists per game and 1.2 steals. Fullove, the Big West Player of the Year, is averaging a team high 15 points per game and is also pulling down 3.7 rebounds. In the Big West Conference Tournament opener against Pacific, Fullove carried the Gauchos with 20 points, however, against Cal Poly, he had his worst game of the year, managing just two points and missing all eight field goal attempts. Jones, who was an Honorable Mention All Big West choice and co-winner of the league's Hustle Award, enters the game averaging 12.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Jones led the Gauchos against Cal Poly with a game high 19 points which was his highest total since scoring 20 points in the first two games of the season. Starting at the forward positions for UCSB will be Big West First Team selection Mark Hull and Casey Cook. Hull is Santa Barbara's second leading scorer at 13 points per game and he leads the team with five rebounds per contest. Hull has scored in double digits in his last seven games and in 24 of the 31 games this season. Across from Hull will be Casey Cook. Cook, the lone sophomore in the UCSB starting lineup, is averaging 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. He has scored ten or more points four times this season but has remained a single digit scorer in the 15 games.

San Diego State Probable Starting Lineup:
The Aztecs are powered in the backcourt by two senior guards, Deandre Moore and Tony Bland. Moore is averaging 8.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game for SDSU, and he also leads the team with 4.1 assists per game. In four of the last six games he has scored in double digits and he recently notched his second career double-double against Wyoming with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Bland was recently named to the All-Mountain West Second Team, capping an outstanding career at San Diego. He transferred from Syracuse two years ago and brought with him a magnificent all-around game. This season he led the team with 16.7 points per game, a total that increased to 17.9 points in conference games. He is also the team's defensive stopper, consistently being matched up against the opponent's top shooting guard. At the forward positions for the Aztecs will be 6'8" freshman Evan Burns and 6'8" junior Aerick Sanders. Burns was named the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year by averaging 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. In the last four outings Burns has been unstoppable averaging 19.5 points including a 31-point performance against University of New Mexico. Sanders is a rebounding machine for SDSU ripping down 7.8 rebounds per game. This total places him third in the conference and his 23 blocks rank him ninth. Starting at the center position for the Aztecs will be Mike Mackell. Mackell, a 6'9" senior, is second on the team in scoring with 15.2 points per game. He also grabs 4.6 rebounds per contest and has a 55.6 field goal percentage.

Scouting the Aztecs:
Tonight is the second time in two seasons and sixth time in school history that the Aztecs have advanced to post season play. San Diego State finished the season with a record of 15-13 and 6-6 in Mountain West Conference play. Tony Bland and Mike Mackell are the big scoring threats for the Aztecs. Bland averages 16.7 points per game and Mackell gets 15.4. Bland is an all-around scorer getting points in the paint, knocking down jumpers, and hitting threes when he feels like it. He leads the team with 164 field goals and has connected on 20 three-pointers. Mackell will score all of his points inside the three-point arc. His shooting percentage of 55.8 should alert everybody to the fact that he manages to get easy baskets under the hoop and around the key. The most significant three-point threat for the Aztecs is Steve Sir. Sir has connected on 43 of 104 three-point attempts in just 14 minutes of play per game. Deandre Moore will also hoist up the occasional three, connecting on 37 of 94 attempts, however, he is more prone to assist one of his teammates for a score. Defensively, San Diego is quick and can usually push teams out of the game with their athletic ability. Bland leads the squad with 30 steals and Evan Burns is right there behind with 27. Burns and center Aerick Sanders can both block shots too, Burns with 22 and Sanders with 23 on the season.

Scouting the Gauchos:
Entering their second post season in two years, the Gauchos are looking to make their name known on a national level. The winner of tonight's game gets to either travel to Texas to take on Bobby Knights Texas Tech club or to Nevada. Either scenario would give Santa Barbara more national attention then they thought they would be getting after losing to Cal Poly in the Big West Tournament. Leading the Gauchos down to San Diego will be Big West Player of the Year Branduinn Fullove. Despite his poor shooting performance against the Mustangs, Fullove is a big game player and it is certain he will redeem himself in some form tonight. Look for him to create shots for himself and to sink a couple three-points baskets. Hull will be a scoring threat tonight as well. Last time Hull played in a post-season game, he left everybody in Arizona with an ulcer, drilling eight three-point baskets and leading his team with 32 points. The Wildcats narrowly escaped UCSB and Hull's wrath, finishing with a slight three point victory. When Hull and Fullove aren't scoring, look for Nick Jones and the rest of the Gauchos to find a way to put points on the board. Jones is hot coming off a 19-point performance against the Mustangs and UCSB will need him to fire up some shots if they want to come away with a victory. After all, he does have the best shooting percentage and three-point percentage of all the starters. Defensively, look for the Gauchos to come out in their pressure man and fall into a nasty zone somewhere in the first half. Santa Barbara will undoubtedly rotate the defensive looks to keep the Aztecs on their toes, but each one will be intense and played with an in-your-face attitude.

Key Match-up:
The key match-up in tonight's game will be the Gaucho big three against the Aztec big three. Fullove, Hull and Jones are set to square off against the Bland, Mackell, and Burns threesome. Both groups lead their teams in most offensive categories and both are counted on to carry their respective teams to victory. It will be exciting to see how each set deals with the new look of their opponents and it should make for quite a thrilling first round NIT game.

What to look for:
Look for the Gauchos to try and redeem themselves after the loss to Cal Poly. The Mustangs entered the semi-final game with a chip on their shoulders and they sure played like it, as if they were out to set a point. Now Santa Barbara needs to get back that winning feeling they carried into the tournament. Look for a great game as both teams are unfamiliar with each other and both have incredibly talented players on both ends of the floor. It should be a high scoring affair as both squads have tremendous firepower on the offensive end and we should see a lot of fast break and running opportunities. Undoubtedly, both teams desperately want to advance so look for determination in the players' eyes and a relentless attitude on the court.