Gauchos matched up with Gators in NCAAs

It’ll be the Gauchos and the Gators.

For the second year in a row, the UCSB men’s basketball team gathered at the ICA Building on campus to learn who would be its first opponent in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. After not seeing their name come up in the first three Regionals, the Gauchos were finally matched up against No. 2-seeded Florida as the No. 15 seed in the Southeast Regional.

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UCSB (18-13) will travel to Tampa, Florida for a Thursday game in Gator Country. The Gators (26-7) lost their final game of the regular season to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game but won the regular season conference title outright.

The Gauchos are returning to the Big Dance for the second consecutive season, getting there by winning the Big West Conference Tournament on Saturday. It’s the first time in school history the team has qualified in back-to-back seasons.

“It’s our second time around, so we’re definitely going in there a lot more loose,” said UCSB forward Jaime Serna. “Coach (Williams) said he wants us playing our best basketball right now, and I feel that’s what we’re doing, so it’s as good a time as ever.”

The winner will face No. 7 UCLA or No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday with a berth to the Sweet 16 in New Orleans on the line.

Florida has a balanced attack, led by Erving Walker and Chandler Parsons. Walker leads the team in scoring with 14.4 ppg while Parsons is the Gators’ leader in rebounds and assists to go with 11.5 ppg. The starting backcourt tandem of Walker and Kenny Boynton serve as Florida’s deep threats. The pair have combined to make 140 triples on the season.

Williams said he’s watched the Gators play on TV this season and remembers several things about them.

“I’ve watched them at least a half-dozen times but I’ve watched them as a spectator, not as a coach,” explained Williams. “I know this, I’ve watched enough of Billy Donovan’s teams, I always love what they run offensively. I know that they are physical inside.”

Williams also remembered the Gators for their quickness in the backcourt with Walker and Boynton.

“It’s a challenge,” he said.

But Williams likes what he has on his side as a No. 15 seed.

“I think we’re probably an unusual low seed in terms of the fact that we have a 7’3” kid that can match up with big kids, we have Orlando who is a legit guy, we have Nun that, Nun gets on a roll he can spread the defense and cause you problems.

“I think we’ll be a better opponent than we were a year ago.”

Last March, UCSB was also the No. 15 seed matched up against No. 2 Ohio State and one of the hottest players in the country in Evan Turner. The Buckeyes, who are the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s tournament, defeated the Gauchos 68-51.

This year, it’s UCSB that has one of the hotter players in the country heading into the tournament in Orlando Johnson. The Big West Tournament MVP has averaged over 28 points in UCSB last three games.

Serna and James Nunnally were also named to the Big West Conference All-Tournament Team for elevating the Gauchos to their first four-game winning streak of the season.

“Having players like Orlando and Nunnally being confident and shooting the ball well, not just them but also our players coming off the bench like Troy Leaf, we’re going to need everybody out there,” Serna said.

TICKET INFORMATION: The time for Thursday’s tip-off in Tampa has yet to be released. Tickets are $82.00 and go on sale Monday morning. They are good only for the session that includes UCSB-Florida and UCLA-Michigan State. Priority will be given to Gaucho Fund members, season ticket holder and UCSB students from 9 a.m. to noon. UCSB alumni and Santa Barbara County residents can purchase from noon to 2:00 p.m. and, if tickets are still available, the general public can purchase them beginning at 2 p.m.

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