Feb. 7, 2004
Santa Barbara, Calif. - Tonight UC Santa Barbara battles first-place Utah State in the second meeting for the two in Big West play. Santa Barbara, coming off a disappointing 57-45 loss at Idaho, is 12-7 overall and 6-4 in the conference. The Gauchos are in third place, three games behind second place Pacific and two games ahead of the four fourth-place teams. Utah State enters tonight's game with an overall record or 18-1 and a league mark of 10-0. The Aggies recently moved in the AP Top-25, and are currently No. 24 in the nation. Tip-off is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. at Utah State's Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The game will be broadcast on KTLK 1340 AM and will also be shown on Fox Sports Net 2.
UC Santa Barbara Probable Starters
Starting in the backcourt for the Gauchos will be seniors Jacoby Atako, Branduinn Fullove, and Nick Jones. Atako is averaging 5.9 points per game and leads the team in both steals (22) and assists (45). He has recently moved into seventh place all-time at Santa Barbara in assists with 355 and fifth place in steals with 114. Although struggling Thursday night against Idaho, scoring just two points on 0-for-2 shooting from the floor, Atako has connected on 47.9% of his shots from the floor and 41.9% from behind the three-point line this season. Fullove, last year's Big West Player of the Year, is leading the Gauchos in conference play with a scoring average of 10.9 points per game. On the season, his average is 10.2 points per game, just 0.1 behind team-leading Casey Cook. Fullove paced UCSB in the loss to Idaho, scoring nine points on 2-of-9 shooting. He recently moved past the 1,300 point mark at Santa Barbara, and with 43 more, he will move into fifth place all-time. Jones has been struggling since coming back from suspension, averaging 7.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. At this time last year, he was one of the team-leaders in both points and rebounds, but this year he has taken longer to get back into the flow. Jones has been spectacular from the free throw line where he has connected on 19-of-20 freebies, 95%. Starting on the blocks for UC Santa Barbara will be sophomore Cameron Goettsche and senior Bryan Whitehead. With Casey Cook still recovering from a leg injury, Goettsche and Whitehead will take the floor for the tip. Goettsche is averaging 8.2 points per game and is leading the team in rebounding with 5.5 per contest. He has scored in double figures six times in the last eight games while having four or more rebounds in 15 of the 18 games thus far. Whitehead has been tremendous on the glass where he is second in rebounding with 5.2 boards per game. He is chipping in 4.2 points and has blocked six shots on the year, the second highest total behind Goettsche's eight.
Utah State Probable Starters
Starting in the backcourt for the Aggies will be seniors Cardell Butler and Mark Brown. Butler and Brown have been two of the keys to success thus far for Utah State. Butler is leading the team in scoring with an average of 13.2 points per game. He is pulling down 2.8 rebounds and dishing out 2.3 assists per game as well. The last time UCSB and USU met, Butler led the Aggies with 18 points in route to Santa Barbara's only home loss this season. Brown epitomizes the true point guard position averaging 8.3 points per game-but more importantly-dishing out just less than five assists per outing and leading the Big West in doing so. He also leads the league in assist to turnover ratio, 1.98. The forwards for Utah will be juniors Jason Williams and Spencer Nelson. Williams is averaging 6.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. His numbers have dropped slightly as of late, but he remains a threat from the free throw line when fouled, sinking 90% of his free ones. Nelson is third on the team in scoring averaging 11 points per game, but he leads the Aggies in rebounding, pulling down 8.2 boards per game. He is second on the team in assists with an average of 3.06 per game and has an assist to turnover ratio of 1.21. Manning the middle for USU will be 6-foot-7 Nate Harris. Harris is second on the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 boards per game. He is leading his team, and the Big West, in field goal percentage, 70.1%, and has caught fire during his last five games, averaging 19.6 points over the span.
Scouting the Gauchos
As has been said time and time again, UC Santa Barbara is one of the most unpredictable teams in the Big West this season. After destroying Cal State Fullerton at home last Saturday to earn its fourth win in five games, Santa Barbara traveled up to Idaho and preceded to fall apart completely, losing to the Vandals 57-45. And it wasn't just a 12-point loss, the Gauchos only scored 11 first-half points, two more than they held Cal State Fullerton to in the record-breaking Thursday night. The team got its first technical and tied for the lowest first half scoring total in 23 years. And now Santa Barbara has to play the best team in the conference, on its home court. Statistically, despite Thursday's loss, UCSB has played some aspects of the game of basketball very well throughout the season, especially rebounding and scoring. The Gauchos rank second in rebounding, rebounding margin, and opponent rebounding. UC Santa Barbara understands the concept of boxing out and the coaches have made this a priority throughout the season. Additionally, the Gauchos are starting to put the ball in the basket at a more efficient rate, especially from behind the three-point line. UCSB leads the Big West in three-point field goal percentage at 40.5%, due in large part to the abilities of sophomore Joe See, who is now shooting 46.7% from behind the arc. Defensively, UC Santa Barbara has begun to step up the intensity as well, resulting in a second place standing in scoring defense and opponent three-point percentage defense.
Scouting the Aggies
Scouting the Aggies is just about the opposite of scouting the Gauchos. While Santa Barbara bounces between being excellent and being terrible, and fluctuating statistically-as well as in the win-loss column-Utah State is simply an outstanding basketball team. USU is off to the best start in school history, and is currently 24th in the country. The Aggies have won 15 games in a row and dating back to last season, Utah has won 15 straight Big West games. Further, USU has won 14 straight games at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Utah. The Aggies do everything well, ranking in the top three in ten of the fifteen statistical categories held by the Big West. USU never ranks below seventh in any category other than steals, and considering that Utah leads the conference in opponent rebounds and scoring defense, steals are merely an added bonus.
The key match-up in tonight's battle with Utah State will be Branduinn Fullove versus Cardell Butler. Both guards are the engines that make their respective teams go, and Fullove or Butler will undoubtedly lead one of the teams to victory. Indeed both squads boast excellent supporting casts, but tonight's game will come down to who has a bigger star.
What To Look For
Look for the Gauchos to come out and play like they have nothing to lose. Utah State has proven itself to be the most dominating team in the Big West and the Aggies have already defeated UC Santa Barbara once, in the Thunderdome. The Aggies are playing on their home court and they are riding the high of being the first team in the Big West to break into the Top-25 ranking since New Mexico State did in 1994. Therefore, Santa Barbara can merely go out and play its game, hoping for the ball to bounce its way. Look for intensity on both sides of the ball, look for lots of offense, and watch two of the top teams in the conference battle it out, the second time around.