UC-Santa Barbara team capsule
UC-Santa Barbara (20-9)
COACH: Bob Williams, 12 years at UC Santa Barbara, two years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (Big West)
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: The 15th-seeded Gauchos will be major underdogs when they play No. 2 seed Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 19 in Milwaukee, Wis., but they won’t go in without a game plan.
UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams can go big with 7-foot-3 sophomore C Greg Somogyi in an effort to match up with the bigger Buckeyes, but he may want to attack from the perimeter. The Gauchos led the Big West Conference in 3-point shooting (.380) this season with four players shooting over 37 percent. Ohio State was eighth in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage defense (.341). The Buckeyes also lack depth with only six players logging significant minutes for coach Thad Matta down the stretch. Still, Ohio State represents a huge challenge for UC Santa Barbara. The Buckeyes have four players averaging at least 12.5 points per game, including Big Ten scoring leader Evan Turner. The versatile 6-7 junior averages 19.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists.
GO-TO GUYS: Sophomore guard Orlando Johnson (6-5, 205) and sophomore forward James Nunnally (6-5, 205) formed one of the best scoring duos in the Big West Conference. Johnson, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, was named Big West player of the year after averaging 18 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists during the regular season. He shot 48.5 percent from the field, made 39.6 percent from 3-point range and led the conference in scoring in his first season with the Gauchos. Nunnally, a second-team All-Big West selection, averaged 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds during the regular season. He was even better in conference play, averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting a league-leading 48.3 percent from 3-point range.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: The Gauchos are 17-1 when shooting a higher percentage than their opponent, 17-2 when shooting at least 40 percent, 16-1 when leading at the half and 11-0 when they score at least 70 points. UC Santa Barbara is just 2-8 when trailing at the half, so it’s up to Johnson, Nunnally and senior guard James Powell (6-2, 185) to make sure the Gauchos get off to a good start. Another key could be the emerging presence of sophomore Greg Somogyi (7-3, 242), a reserve center who is better utilizing his 7-9 wingspan to block and alter shots around the basket. Over the past eight games, Somogyi averaged 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 14.1 minutes, up from his season averages of 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He had a school-record eight blocked shots against Fresno State on Feb. 20.
STRENGTHS: Offensively, the Gauchos feature an effective three-pronged attack with Johnson, Nunnally and Powell. All three ranked among the top 10 in the Big West Conference in 3-point shooting. Nunnally (.457) was second, Powell (.422) fifth and Johnson (.394) tied for ninth. Powell broke a school record with his 215th career 3-pointer in the championship game of the Big West Conference tournament. Defensively, the Gauchos like to apply pressure with a tough matchup zone. They were first in the Big West in 3-point percentage defense (.306), second in blocked shots (3.1 blocks per game), and third in scoring defense (65.7 points per game) and field-goal percentage defense (.418).
WEAKNESSES: Coach Bob Williams has five upperclassmen who played for his NIT team in 2007-08. All five have a role on this year’s team, but the sophomore class represents the club’s nucleus and has accounted for nearly 70 percent of UC Santa Barbara’s points this season. That bodes well for the future, but in the meantime it leaves the Gauchos lacking in terms of postseason tournament experience. The team’s biggest deficiency might be rebounding. When Somogyi isn?t on the floor, the Gauchos go small with Nunnally at power forward and sophomore Jaime Serna (6-7, 235) at center. The Gauchos were last in the Big West Conference in rebounding margin (minus-2.3) and offensive rebounds per game (8.9). They were outrebounded in 12 of the last 14 games.