California-Santa Barbara at Pacific (Big West)A.C. Spanos Center - Stockton, CA10:00 PM EST
Play ball! Off we go to the Left Coast, where the Big West race has become Revenge of the Cal States. Northridge (9-2) and Fullerton (10-3), probably more well-entrenched as baseball schools (and the alma mater of guys like Adam Kennedy and Aaron Rowand, respectively), are ruling the basketball standings as college hardball season gets underway.
But don't forget about those two teams, both currently steps behind at 8-4, who've been in the Big West basketball conversation for years now. UCSB hasn't been to the Dance since 2002, but does have the most overall wins of any Big West team this year with 19. The Gauchos, picked by many to win this league, have one of the most productive backcourts in mid-majordom -- heck, the country! -- in terms of hitting 3's and forcing turnovers. Led by electric Alex Harris
(20.4 ppg, 46.6 percent 3FG%), Santa Barbara's guards have put the team at fourth nationally in 3-point shooting (41.3 percent) and third in opponent turnover rate (26 percent). With a backcourt like that, who needs forwards? Actually, UCSB does have a pair of good 6-8 specimens. Chris Devine
is a 6-8 junior who's chipped in 13 points of his own and offers 5.3 rebounds per contest, and Ivan Elliott
is solid at 9.5 ppg and a team-leading 5.8 boards.
Pulling hosting duties tonight is Pacific (17-8, 8-4). The Tigers, they of two straight Round of 32 appearances in 2004 and 2005, have been up and down this year, and are currently on a low cycle with two straight losses at Fullerton and Irvine. Easily the hottest-shooting team in the league, leading the Big West in nearly every meaningful timed
offensive category (the nicest way possible to gloss over 65 percent free throw shooting I could think of). Just like in the world-beating days, Pacific hits about half its shots, and can nearly match UCSB 3 for 3 with its 40.9 percent beyond-arc mark. And whatever the Tigers accomplish in the next month, 2008-09 is going to be special. Their three double-figure scorers, led by 6-1 Steffan Johnson
(15.3 ppg), are all juniors.UCSB 60, PAC 53
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