Gauchos confident they'll hang with Gators


Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 8:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 8:02 p.m.

TAMPA — The California-Santa Barbara team that will play Florida today at 6:50 p.m. has a mediocre record (18-13), a low seed (15th) and plenty of confidence entering the NCAA Tournament.

“We don't feel like we're that big of underdogs,” said forward James Nunnally. “We feel we can play with anybody.”

The Gauchos have been getting plenty of play from TV and radio host Jim Rome, an alumnus, while Florida has been projected as a possible Final Four team by several national analysts. The Gators won 10 of their last 12 games while UCSB has won six in a row.

“They're not that different,” said guard Orlando Johnson. “They just play on a bigger stage. I think once we get out there, our play will do the talking.”

The school made the Big Dance a year ago, losing to Ohio State 68-51. The players feel that experience will help them against the Gators.

“It's different because we've been here before,” Nunnally said. “I think last year we were just kind of content because our school hadn't been there in a while. But this year, we're in it to win it, hands down.”

The Gauchos had to fly across the country but the players said a quick nap after they arrived took care of jet lag.

“You've just got to get over the traveling part pretty quick,” said forward Jaime Serna, “because most teams would kill to be here. So we can't start feeling sorry for ourselves or start making excuses.”

UCSB came into the season with high expectations but struggled to a 15-13 record and an 8-8 conference record before blowing away the field in the Big West Tournament.

Coach Bob Williams has played 10 different starters during the season and knows what challenges Florida presents.

“They're much bigger than us,” he said. “If we go small, maybe there's a few quickness advantages. I don't know that we could beat them in the 50s. We're going to have to have one of those nights where we shoot well.

“But we also can't have it just being an up-and-down the floor game with those guards. I mean, they are two of the quickest guards in the country. You watch (Erving) Walker go end to end — he's a jet. I'm not sure we can outrun Walker when he's dribbling it and we don't even have the ball if you put us in a sprint. We definitely don't want the game wide open with him.”

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