March 6, 2003
Tonight the UCSB men's basketball team takes on the Titans of Cal State Fullerton after defeating then first place UC Irvine. The win against Irvine thrust Santa Barbara into first place and set the team up for a potential #1 seed in the Big West Tournament and a first ever regular-season league championship. The Gauchos enter tonight's game with an overall record of 15-12 and a league leading 12-4 mark. Fullerton is 9-17 on the season and 7-9 in Big West play. The game will be played at Fullerton's Titan Gymnasium and will be broadcast on KEYT 1250.
UCSB Probable Starting Lineup:
Starting in the backcourt for the Gauchos will be the same three guards that powered Santa Barbara into first place. Jacoby Atako will start at the point after a brilliant defensive showing against Irvine. Though defense often gets overlooked in the stat books, Atako's play against Irvine's second leading scorer Mike Hood was more than worthy of recognition. Atako held Hood scoreless on 0-6 shooting from the floor and 0-3 shooting from behind the three-point line. Importantly, this was nothing close to a fluke, Atako has led a defensive charge throughout conference play and has been the inspiration on the defensive end of the floor during every big Gaucho victory. Along side Atako in the backcourt will be leading scorer Branduinn Fullove and Nick Jones. While Atako steps up on the defensive end of the floor in big games, Fullove steps up the offense. He leads the team in scoring at 15 points per game and in the win against Irvine, he had what may have been his best all-around game of the season. Fullove torched the Anteaters for 15 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Opposite Fullove will be Nick Jones. Jones is third on the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game and he too played outstanding basketball against Irvine. Jones scored all 16 of his points in the first half and he also grabbed six rebounds. Down on the blocks for the Gauchos will be Mark Hull and Casey Cook. Hull became just the second player in Santa Barbara history to pass 1,500 points on his career in his senior-night performance against Irvine. He scored his average, 13 points, and drilled two three-pointers as well. Gaucho fans hope the game against Irvine lifted Hull out of the shooting slump he has been experiencing during the last few games. Cook, who has basically been splitting time with Bryan Whitehead, is scoring 5.3 points per game and is pulling down 3.6 rebounds as well. In both games last weekend Cook grabbed six rebounds and he connected on 7-of-8 free throws.
Cal State Fullerton Probable Starting Lineup:
Starting at the guard positions for the Titans will be juniors Zakee Smith and Anthony Bolton. Smith is averaging four points and 2.2 rebounds per game for the Titans. Over the last five games Smith has dished out 22 assists while only turning the ball over seven times. Bolton is averaging 9.7 points 4.2 rebounds. Standing 6'7", he poses a problem down low for many opposing guards. The forwards for Fullerton will be 6'4" sophomore Ralphy Holmes and 6'6" junior Amir Bar-Netzer. Holmes leads the Titans and the Big West in scoring at 17.5 points per game. He also manages to pull down 6.1 rebounds per contest. Bar-Netzer is the lowest scoring starter for the Titans averaging just 3.8 points per game, however, he does grab 4.4 rebounds per outing. Additionally, last week he averaged nine points per game and connected on 7-of-8 shots from the floor. The center for Cal State Fullerton will be 6'10" junior Pape Sow. Sow missed the first contest versus the Gauchos due to unspecified reasons but now he is back in action. On the season Sow is averaging 13.7 points per game and a team high 8.4 rebounds. Additionally, despite playing in just 15 games this season, Sow leads the Big West in double doubles with a total of six.
Scouting the Titans:
Don't even start to think that this game is a "throw-away" for the Titans. A win against UCSB would give Fullerton 10 wins. This is exactly how many wins the team had in the last two years combined. Further, a win would prevent the team from having a 20-loss season, something that they are growing a bit accustomed to after two 20-loss seasons in a row. And even further, the Titans upset the Gaucho in the Thunderdome earlier this season in an overtime game that was full of emotion and energy. If anything is certain it is that Fullerton will come out ready to play and ready to achieve goals they set for themselves earlier in the year, regardless of their opponent. The obvious choice for player that must be shut down is Ralphy Holmes. If it wasn't enough that he drilled a game tying three-pointer to push the earlier contest against the Gauchos into overtime, he is the conference's leading scorer at 17.5 points per game. The man can flat-out score and somebody from UCSB must be ready to play some defense against him. Additionally, Pape Sow is back after missing numerous games to begin the season. This means that the Titans have a legitimate threat down low, somebody that can clean the glass and chip in 13 points per game. Santa Barbara will have their hands full dealing with Sow down low. UCSB can't afford to take this game lightly, the combination of Holmes and Sow has the potential to be lethal, especially when playing at home in the Titan Gym.
Scouting the Gauchos:
The main concern for any team that has to go up against the Gauchos is the relentless defense that Santa Barbara has been playing. Indeed Fullove and Hull command a lot of attention on the offensive end of the floor, but it is clearly the defense that is winning the team ball games. It all starts with Atako up top where he continually shuts down the best guard on opposing teams. He also manages to lead the team in steals and ignites a ferocious fast break. The only way to prepare to encounter this defense is to work on crisp passing and trying to get to the hoop before Santa Barbara has a chance to set up. Don't be surprised to see the Titans out on the fast break as much as possible, so not to allow UCSB the chance to fall into their pressure zone. On the offensive end of the floor you really never know what to do against the Gauchos. Teams have tried different styles of defense all year, including zones and presses, but nothing can sufficiently stop the scoring ability of so many of the players under Coach Williams. Again, it starts with Atako at the point, and Chrismen Oliver when Atako needs a breather. The Santa Barbara point guards have done a magnificent job getting the ball up the court without turnovers this year. Many teams have attempted to press the guards but Atako and Oliver look like trained professionals bringing the ball a bit of the way up and then reversing it to get the defense moving. In no time the ball is past half court and UCSB flies into its offense. From there, the defense must key on Fullove and Hull. Fullove gets his points every game. Rarely do you see a box score without his name near the top in points. He can connect from the outside and he drills jump shots that most people wouldn't dream of even attempting. Furthermore, when he gets to the line he knocks down his free throws. Hull has to be paid attention to as well, despite the fact that he has cooled off a bit lately. Other offensive threats for the Gauchos are Nick Jones, Cecil Brown and Josh Davis. Jones is the streakiest scorer for the Gauchos, when he is on he's virtually unstoppable. Davis and Brown both come off the bench to contribute to the offense and both possess an athleticism that is rarely matched. What we notice here is that in order to shut down the Gauchos offensively, a team must play spectacular team defense, not focusing on just one man, but trying its best to shut down the entire offense.
The key match-up in tonight's game will be either Fullove or Jones on Ralphy Holmes. For those that don't remember, Holmes played a huge part in the game earlier in the season in which Fullerton handed Santa Barbara its first loss in the Thunderdome on the season. Holmes is a prolific scorer who can create shots from anywhere on the floor. Though standing just 6'4" he starts at the forward spot and by all means can he score inside. Holmes likes to roam the three-point line as well where he has consistently knocked down about two per game. Likely Jones will start on him, but Fullove or Atako could also see time trying to slow down the conference's leading scorer.
What to look for:
Look for the Gauchos to ride their wave all the way to the Big West Tournament. The upset over Irvine placed Santa Barbara in control of its own destiny and one has to believe UCSB is going to take full advantage. The only problem with this is that the Gauchos have consistently played outstanding basketball with their backs against the ropes, especially during Big West play. Hopefully on this occasion Santa Barbara will capitalize on the opportunity they have earned and will coast into the Tournament with a #1 seed. However, Fullerton can never be overlooked, they beat the Gauchos in the Thunderdome to hand UCSB one its only losses at home this season.