Big West Conference Notebook
by Shaan Hassan
Gauchos Run Into Glass Ceiling
The glass slipper has broken. It’s turned midnight. Last year, the UC
Santa Barbara Gauchos capped off a Cinderella season by winning the Big
West Conference tournament and earning the automatic bid to the NCAA
tournament. It prompted nearly everyone, except their challengers, to
say with a smile, “Wow, what a season!” Now you can say the same words,
but with a different meaning.
The Gauchos, expected to challenge for this year’s conference title,
have surprised everyone by falling to a dismal 3-5 record and lie in
sixth place. Their season started with back-to-back losses in the Top of
the World Classic, November 22-24 in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Gauchos first fell victim to Weber State, 91-82, despite forward
Mark Hull and guard Nick Jones combining for 43 points and 15 rebounds.
The problem was that the rest of the team tallied just 39 points and 12
rebounds. UCSB’s defense allowed five Weber State players to
score in double digits as the team shot over 56 percent from behind the
arc, compared to the Gauchos’ 39.1 percent shooting.
Following that game, UCSB fell to Jacksonville State 73-66. The Gauchos’
defense tightened allowing only three players to score in double
figures, but that wasn’t the only thing that tightened
up. Hull scored just 10 points on 4-12 shooting after his 23-point
performance a day earlier.
UCSB finally got their act together and drummed Centenary 84-69 to
conclude the tourney the next day. Hull still struggled, as did Jones,
but a strong performance from forward Branduinn Fullove who put up 22
points, and a good team defensive effort helped make it a mute point.
At this point, Santa Barbara can predict only this: the unpredictable. At
times they look like last year’s dominant team, exhibited by their upset
69-53 win over USC, Dec. 3. Yet, at other points in the season (some of the
aforementioned results) they look the part of a sixth place team.
However, not all is lost and one has to keep in mind what the Gauchos’
schedule looks like. Their early season losses can be attributed to just
that: early season.
Also, on UCSB’s slate of opponents thus far included USC, Pepperdine,
Cal Berkeley and a good BYU team that hasn’t lost at home in 40 games.
The Gauchos competed with Pepperdine and Cal in losses. The other two
games were on different ends of the spectrum: a 13-point blasting from
BYU, and a 16-point devastation to shock USC.
Cinderella teams only last one year and it’s time for the Gauchos to
change from underdog to the big dog. Come January when the conference
season begins, the Gauchos better figure out how to solve their
up-and-down play or they’ll be experiencing the other side of the
Cinderella life: “Wash the basement floor Cinderelly.”
A Conference Divided
The only certain way to find out who’s who in the Big West is to wait
until January when the conference schedule begins, but as of Dec. 22,
one can pretty easily divide the conference into three components: the
challengers, the seat cushions, and the wine-case drinkers. Let’s break
The challengers include Utah State (7-2), Cal State Northridge (6-3) and
UC Irvine (4-3). These are the only teams in the conference with a
winning record and seem to have all engines running properly. Each team
has their issues, but they have good coaches at the helm ready to snap
everything back into place.
The seat cushions, the largest group of the conference,
includes Pacific (3-4), Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (3-5), UC Santa Barbara
(3-5) and Idaho (3-5). These are the teams that are always a step behind the
dominant ones. And unless they get their problems fixed, they will be
constantly used and abused by the challengers. Some of the cushions are
stronger than others, but none worth worrying about too much just yet.
The wine-case drinkers are Cal State Fullerton (2-6), UC Riverside (1-4)
and Long Beach State (1-7). One could make an argument that Fullerton
belongs in the middle group, but because of all their junior college
transfers, this team may need a full year to become used to one another’s
playing habits on the court. Regardless, these teams this year don’t
have too much going for them. Only question: store-brand
Strength in Numbers for Players of the Week
Rather than stressing over one or the other, the Big West Conference
instead chose to go with both. Cal State Northridge forward Armand
Thomas and Pacific forward Christian Maraker were both honored as Big
West Conference Co-Players of the Week, Dec. 16.
Thomas scored 16 points and had nine rebounds in the Matadors’ 92-67 win
over San Jose State. He shot 6-7 from the field hit all four of his free
Maraker averaged a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds as the
Tigers split their two games of the week. He scored 17 points and had a
career high of 12 rebounds in the Tigers’ 80-60 loss to Fresno State.
Against San Francisco, Maraker posted 15 points and eight rebounds in
Pacific’s 75-59 win. He scored 11 of his points in the first half.