When the Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball teams met at the Thunderdome last month, there were enough noteworthy happenings to fill a series worth of game recaps.
It came down to double overtime. The coaches got into a war of words. Something tripped the fire alarm. And don’t forget those clock errors.
As crazy as it was, Cal Poly guard Drake U’u called it a typical Blue-Green
Rivalry game, which might not be as hyperbolic as it sounds.
Over the years, the Big West Conference matchup between its two Central Coast competitors has seen its share of buzzer-beating game-winners, bench-clearing shoving matches, pointed remarks and controversial hard fouls.
All of the above is part of what makes the renewal of the rivalry in Mott Gym tonight at 7 so popular with each team’s fans.
“It’s probably the most fun game of the year for the fans and possibly for the players,” Cal Poly senior guard Dylan Royer said. “The crowd is pretty much always sold out, people come out in costumes, people come out in T-shirts, and there’s just so much enthusiasm.
“You try to treat it like every other game, and you do from a certain standpoint. The practices are the same. The film sessions are the same, but once you get on the court and look at each others eyes, maybe a few extra cameras are out filming the game, a few extra posters are out, and all of a sudden, your focus heightens, and your energy peaks and emotions get a little tight sometimes.”
Both teams may be without their best players.
Cal Poly (11-11, 7-5 Big West) is faced with a tough decision. Leading scorer and rebounder Chris Eversley hurt his left ankle late in the first half of a 68-53 victory over UC Davis a week ago today.
Eversley has shown steady improvement since, but he’ll only play tonight if the risk of re-injuring the ankle is reasonably small. Eversley ranks ninth in Big West with 15.6 points per game and sixth with 7.6 rebounds.
Aside from the second half against the Aggies where they already had a 17-point lead, the Mustangs have no idea what it’s like to play without Eversley.
UC Santa Barbara (8-15, 4-8 Big West) lost big man Alan Williams to a sprained ankle in a 66-53 victory over Pacific a week ago.
Williams ranks fifth in the Big West with 17.2 points per game and leads the conference with 9.9 rebounds, including a conference-best 4.0 offensive rebounds per game.
Unlike Cal Poly, the Gauchos have gotten somewhat accustomed to being without Williams.
He hurt his hamstring in the first half of the previous game against Cal Poly and sat out the entire second half and both overtimes. UC Santa Barbara lost the next three games without Williams and two more after his return to the lineup before the victory over Pacific broke the losing streak.
Sitting in eighth place, the Gauchos are in danger of falling out of the Big West Conference Tournament, which only takes eight of the 10 teams.
Since the loss to UC Santa Barbara, the Mustangs have concentrated on improving a pick-and-roll defense the Gauchos exploited repeatedly, especially late in the game.
Cal Poly has also added U’u to the starting lineup at point guard, giving its lineup the size necessary to allow outside shooters Reese Morgan and Dylan Royer to play together on the wing.
“Defensively, we’re playing a lot better than we were,” U’u said, “and offensively, we’re flowing a little more, trying to push it in transition. I’m going to try to be aggressive as I can to try and get our shooters shots and get it into the post.”
This will also be a test for the Cal Poly clock operators. After multiple shot clock errors in the previous matchup — and one that turned out especially unfortunate for the Mustangs — Callero outwardly chastised the Thunderdome staff at the scorer’s table during the game.
That led to Bob Williams charging Callero to defend his university’s volunteers. The two had to be separated by assistant coaches. After tempers cooled after the game, each rationalized how the roles could have been reversed.