GAME NOTES: The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos will try to keep pace atop the Big West standings when they battle the Cal State Fullerton Titans at the UCSB Events Center on Saturday.
UCSB bounced back from a difficult loss to Cal State Northridge (80-78) with a dramatic, 55-54, win over UC Riverside on Thursday night. The Gauchos have won five of their last six games to improve to 17-7, including an 8-3 ledger in conference play, which is just a half-game behind league-leading UC Irvine, the team the Gauchos will face next.
Cal State Fullerton is not in the mix at the top of the Big West, with only four wins in 11 chances in league play. However, the Titans have won two of their last three games, including a rare road win over Cal Poly (67-59) on Thursday. They will host Long Beach State in their next outing.
Surprisingly, Cal State Fullerton won the first meeting between these teams this season, earning a 74-72 home victory on Jan. 25. The Titans have had the upper hand in three of the last four matchups, but UCSB still leads the all- time series, 40-37.
The Titans really hammered Cal Poly defensively to notch Thursday's win. They limited the Mustangs to 35.8 percent shooting, including a 2-of-13 performance from 3-point range. At the other end, Fullerton connected on 45.7 percent of its total shots.
It has been a necessity for the Titans to keep opponents down on offense, as they don't perform well at the offensive end themselves. They are netting only 67.4 ppg on 42.6 percent shooting. Both of those marks are second-worst in the Big West. Michael Williams (16.8 ppg) and Alex Harris (15.4 ppg) do most of the heavy lifting in terms of scoring. Williams netted a game-high 23 points on Thursday, getting 14 of those from the free-throw line. Harris added 13 points in the victory. After Williams and Harris, the list of scorers dries up quickly. Josh Gentry (7.4 ppg) and Marquis Horne (7.4 ppg) are the next best options.
UCSB had a 31-20 lead at halftime, but nearly let it slip away against UC Riverside. The Gauchos connected on only 28.6 percent of their shots from the floor in the second frame, but a pair of free-throws from Zalmico Harmon with four seconds left, made a buzzer-beating 3-point from the Highlanders irrelevant.
The Gauchos are a much more potent offensive team in comparison to Cal State Fullerton, as they are netting 72.3 ppg and shooting a respectable 46.4 percent from the field, ranking fourth and third, respectively, in each category in the conference. Alan Williams (22.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg) is one of the real contenders for Big West Player of the Year honors, as he leads the conference in scoring and rebounds, while ranking second in blocks. He had 19 points and 15 rebounds to carry the Gauchos to victory on Thursday. Michael Bryson (10.7 ppg), Kyle Boswell (10.5 ppg) and Harmon (7.7 ppg, 5 apg) are also important contributors, although they serve secondary roles.
Revenge should be the main focus for UCSB on Saturday. As long as the Gauchos are able to feed Williams the ball and keep their minds off of their matchup with UC Irvine later in the week, they will earn another victory.
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