Top Teams Clash at Thunderdome

It was revenge served up on a silver platter. I silver platter passed around to an ESPN2 national audience that watched the Aggies embarrass the Gauchos handing them a 75-59 defeat. The Utah State basketball squad played great that night in the Spectrum, and they caught UCSB on an off night, resulting in the lopsided outcome. Less than one month later, it's the Aggies stepping onto foreign ground and the Gauchos with sweet revenge in mind.


The Event: USU (7-2) (16-4) vs. UCSB (6-3) (9-10)

The Time:  Thursday Feb. 6th - 6:00 P.M. MST

The Place: The Thunderdome (6000)


Since that game, UCSB went out on a mission defeating CSUN by 18, Pacific by 15, Cal Poly by 9, and at Irvine by 16, then losing their last game to arch rival Long Beach by 1.  Prior to the first match up on Jan. 11th, Branduinn Fullove had been nursing a groin injury that had kept him out of two games and gave him very limited playing abilities against Idaho and then Utah State.  Since then, he has scored 15, 17, 16, 22 and 20 points in each game respectively averaging 52% FG during those 5 games.  The Aggies will not be seeing the same Fullove that showed in Logan. 


Utah State seems to have their "go to" leader in Desmond Penigar out of his slump just in time for this big game.  Penigar played 30 minutes Saturday night at Idaho shooting 10-16 from the floor, scoring a game high and career road high 26 points and yanking down 8 rebounds. His efforts combined with the Big West leading assist man Mark Brown, who has shown he can run a calm and collected Aggie offense in hostile environments and situations, has kept Aggie faithful hopes alive for what is adding up to another spectacular season.


Much has been said about the entanglement of Fullove and Penigar during the Jan.11th match up and then words exchanged between Fullove and Nelson while shaking hands after the game.  It's all for the birds, and I imagine both teams will take their spin on what happened to use as motivation for the game this Thursday night.  One thing we do know…this game has all the ingredients of a classic battle!


I had the honor of interviewing Mark Patton, sports writer for the UCSB Gauchos, for this weeks' game.  This is what he had to say.    


AS  Everyone knows that when rivals play, you throw records out the window, still the Long Beach loss must have come as a shock.  What did the Gauchos fail to do in the LB loss that they had done the previous 4 games in convincing victories?
Patton: "They actually played hard, but struggled shooting the ball, which is normally their strength. They made just 4-of-18 of their 3-pointers and 23-of-35 free throws. They missed three of their last five foul shots in the last 47.6 seconds, which cost them victory. Things also finally seemed to come together for Long Beach. The 49ers got five 3-pointers and 19 points from freshman Jibril Hodges, and also good games from Vance Lawhorn (13 points, 8 rebounds) and Kevin Roberts (15 points, 7 rebounds). They were really motivated to play the Gauchos, who are a traditional rival."

AS  Obviously Branduinn Fullove still thinks about his performance against the Aggies earlier this year, it was one he admitted letting the crowd get to him which resulted in his forced game.  Is this game personal for Branduinn?  Is he feeling any lingering effects from his earlier groin pull at this point in the season?  Is Branduinn a POY candidate this year?
Patton: "He wouldn't say that it's personal, but I know that he has this game circled on his calendar -- mainly because he considers Utah State to be the Big West's toughest team. Branduinn, like most college basketball players, has a real competitive streak in him. He's said that he hopes the Thunderdome will be full of rowdy students, just like the Spectrum was. His groin pull has healed and he's played well of late, scoring 22 points at Irvine and 20 at Long Beach, although he missed two of those late free throws against the 49ers. That'll probably fire him up for Thursday. I would say he's a good candidate for Player of the Year, if the Gauchos win the title, because he's UCSB's best all-around player and their go-to scorer. But then, it should really go to Desmond Penigar if the Aggies win it."

AS  What are the things coach Williams has the team doing now they are winning, that they weren¹t doing earlier in the season while less successful?
Patton: "Their defense has finally kicked in. They double-down on post players quicker than any Gaucho team I've seen the last 20 years, which is key since they're not big. Adam Parada made just one basket for Irvine Thursday. Going into the Long Beach game, they had allowed league opponents a field-goal percentage of 39.8 percent. The 49ers made over 50 percent, but Coach Larry Reynolds admitted that some of the shots that Hodges made were forced through some sticky defense. If you're going to beat the Gauchos, you had better stay patient in your offense. UCSB also stays within its offense for most of the shot clock and rarely takes a bad shot."

AS  Have the Gauchos found an answer to their lack of an inside game?
Patton: "Casey Cook finally got used to playing with his back to the basket, and had a few big scoring games until going stone cold on this last road trip. UCSB also likes to post up two of its big guards, Fullove and Nick Jones, who both have a knack for scoring around the basket."

AS  How big is this rematch game for the Gaucho fans?
Patton: "There's been a big effort on campus all week to get the students out for the game. It's also been the talk of the town since Thursday's big win at Irvine put the Gauchos in a tie for first. Maybe they should've been talking about Long Beach, instead."

AS  What are three keys to a Gaucho win Thursday night?
Patton: "(1) Defensively, keep Penigar from going nuts in his old backyard (he played his JC ball 30 miles away in Ventura and, reportedly, knows Fullove well). (2) Limit Spencer Nelson's put backs, which absolutely killed the Gauchos in Logan, and at least stay close to the Aggies on the boards overall. (3) Make use of the shot clock to get good looks for their many 3-point shooters as well as tire out the Aggies, who could come in a little leg weary from the long trip."

AS  How do the Gaucho fans feel about their ³bracket buster² home game against Detroit?
Patton: "They were hoping to get a national TV game against either Fresno State (an old Big West rival, coached by a former Gaucho assistant, Ray Lopes) or Hawaii. But considering the fact that they dropped under .500 overall at 9-10, they knew that wouldn't happen. They were actually very happy to get Detroit, which has made it to the postseason a few times in recent years and has a good team this year. The only downside is that Detroit played perhaps its worst game all of last year when the Gauchos trounced them 86-59 at Santa Clara's Cable Car Classic. Detroit is going to want redemption. Much like the Gauchos want it Thursday night for the beating the Aggies gave them last month."


Thanks to Mark Patton for the great interview!



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