The fact that the Bruins stuggled against Vermont and Loyola Marymount, then, gives you reason enough to worry, because UCSB is a considerably better team than either.
The Gauchos are 4-2, with wins over Hawaii, Pepperdine, Westmont and San Diego, and losses to Saint Mary's and Southeast Missouri State.
They have decent size up front, and probably the best collection of wings and guards that UCLA will have faced to date this season, even including Kentucky.
They have been missing their two best players for a majority of their games, seniors Braduinn Fullove and Nick Jones. Jones is slated to be out for another week or so, but Fullove made his season debut last Saturday after sitting out the first five games with an ankle injury. Fullove, who is a strong 6-5 wing, played only 13 minutes off the bench and went 0-5 from the field, led the team in scoring a year ago, averaging 14 points a game, and was the 2003 Big West Player of the Year. He could still be a bit rusty tonight, but expect him to start this game and be quite a bit more effective than he was against San Diego. Fullove has a great outside shot (shooting 40% for his career at UCSB from the three-point line), but is also strong and physical enough to put the ball on the floor and take it straight through an opponent.
With the shooting guard Jones out, 6-4 sophomore Cecil Brown has ably filled in. Brown leads the team in scoring so far this season, averaging 12 points a game. In Fullove's absence, Jones has become the scorer in UCSB's offense. He loves to shoot, and will do it from anywhere on the floor, and can get very hot. He's probably their best athlete, probably their best natural passer and, when he wants to, can be a very good defender.
6-1 senior point guard Jacoby Atako is a very solid all-around player. He can shoot pretty well, even though he doesn't choose to much, with so many scorers around him, but on offense doesn't make a great many mistakes. He's a great on-the-ball defender and, in fact, won the Big West Defensive Player of the Year last season.
The perimeter talent doesn't stop there for the Gauchos, though. Talented sophomore 6-5 wing Josh Davis has started while Fullove and Jones have been out, and done well. Davis is a player that, coming out of high school, turned down some serious Pac-10 interest to go to Santa Barbara. He has great versatility, with a point guard's mentality, and a very well-put-together body. Then, coming off the bench is Oregon State transfer Joe See. See, at 5-11 or so, doesn't have great size or athleticism, but he's one of the best pure spot-up shooters in the west. He's shooting about 40% from three for UCSB, and has taken the most shots from behind the arc so far this season. Junioir backup point guard Chrismen Oliver comes off the bench to spell Atako, and brings a pretty good shooting touch himself to the floor.
Between See, Fullove, Brown, Atako and Davis, you have a group of perimeter players that can really shoot, score, defend and match up physically with anyone.
UCLA's lack of depth on the perimeter could be exposed tonight against the Gauchos. With Fullove's return, UCSB has five guys who are pretty versatile in the backcourt that head coach Bob Williams can keep shuffling in and out. UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland has talked about how his lack of depth at the perimeter positions made him play Cedric Bozeman too many minutes so far this season, which has led him to tire down the stretch in games. UCSB will try to do just that, throw a steady stream of fresh bodies at Bozeman to tire him out, get him to commit turnovers and slack off on defense. It could greatly help the Bruins in the backcourt if in fact T.J. Cummings does return tonight, enabling Howland to use Dijon Thompson at the two and get more depth on the perimeter. Backup point guard Ryan Walcott will be tested defensively in the 5-8 minutes he'll get tonight. Even if Howland can get Walcott matched up on the smaller See, he'll still have a tough time getting out on See when he catches the ball, with UCSB's offense designed very well to get its perimeter players open looks.
Inside UCSB doesn't have the talent it does on the perimeter. They basically use two forwards in their lineup, led by 6-8 junior Casey Cook. Cook, averaging 10 points a game, has a pretty decent touch around the basket, and can face up out to about 15 feet consistently. He's pretty well built, but limited athletically, and should be a matchup that Trevor Ariza or T.J. would be able to exploit defensively.
Cameron Goettsche, the 6-9 sophomore transfer, has been starting at the other baseline position. He's the springier athlete between him and Cook, and has good length and shot-blocking ability. He's still pretty raw offensively, but likes to step out and shoot the three.
Coming off the bench is the senior transfer from Washington State, 6-8 Bryan Whitehead. Their biggest body at 245 lbs., Whitehead does much of the dirty work, being easily the best rebounder for the amount of minutes he plays (averaging almost 6 in just 16 minutes per game), and a solid post defender.
Like with every other opponent so far this season, UCLA easily has an advantage in size and athleticism in its frontcourt. With the addition of both Ariza and Cummings, it gives the Bruins a huge edge in talent and skill level, too. UCLA, with this advantage, should have their offense go inside-out against the Gauchos, pushing the ball inside to Fey and to Cummings. Cook, Goettsche and Whitehead make up a decent rebounding threesome, but UCLA should be too much for them on the boards.
Overall, with its good, athletic perimeter players and solid interior defenders, UCSB is a pretty solid defensive team, allowing opponents to shoot only 40% from the field so far this season. They're a smart, experienced team that doesn't commit many mistakes or turnovers.
UCLA will have to stay focused in the backcourt, particularly on defense, and not allow UCSB to get open looks. This game will probably be won by UCLA with its advantage on offense in the frontcourt, but also by playing good defense against UCSB's shooters. If Cummings plays, with that extra shooting ability adding another offensive dimension, watch for UCLA's offense to take a step forward against UCSB. But UCLA will definitely have to play a better overall game than it did against either Vermont or Loyola Marymount to win this game.