I feel guilty for just sitting courtside at the St. Pete Times Forum and watching free basketball all day before Florida and UC-Santa Barbara play tonight, so let's do some learning. Today's subject is one most of the Gators are probably still a little rusty on -- their opponent, the Gauchos.
We'll start at the top. A Gaucho is a cowboy, just more Spanish-sounding and maybe a little more badass. Their gym is called The Thunderdome, which is all kinds of awesome, and they play in the Big West Concerence, which they've won the past two years. This time was a bit of a surprise, as they became the lowest seed to win the tourney since a 6-seed won in 1996.
UCSB had a disappointing 15-13 regular season where its longest win streak was three games, but in the Big West Tourney, the Gauchos turned that around. They shot a blazing 49.7 percent from the field in those three games, beating Pacific, Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State -- teams against which they'd gone a combined 0-6 against this year.
The biggest reason for that turnaround was guard Orlando Johnson. At 6-foot-5, he's a matchup problem, and the kid is a natural scorer. In 61 career games, he's scored in double figures 60 times, with the lone exception being a 6-point showing in the regular-season finale. He went off at the Big West Tourney for 85 points in three games to take MVP, and he'll be the main focus of the Gators' defense tonight.
He'll be really dangerous if he's on the same hot streak that carried UCSB into this tournament, and it's clear he still has the confidence. Here's what he said about UF on Wednesday: "They're not that different, they just play on a bigger stage. I think once we get out there, our players will be able to do the talking."
His players are forward James Nunnally, forward Jaime Serna and guard Justin Joyner. Those four all have to play well for the Gauchos to become the first 15-seed to win since 2001. Nunnally (6-foot-6) is the No. 2 scoring option at 16.4 ppg, and Serna (6-foot-9) is next at 8 ppg. Serna was limited by a groin injury this season but has found his form of late, averaging 15 points across the conference semifinal and final. And Joyner is the assist/steal guy. He dropped 112 dimes (equal to UF leader Chandler Parsons) and had 50 steals (Erving Walker is Florida's best at 37).
Those are the big four names to watch tonight, and keep an eye out for Greg Somogyi. The Hungarian is 7-foot-3 but only plays 14 minutes per game. In that short time, though, he averages 1.9 blocks. But I wouldn't expect him to impact the game too much. This will really come down to whether Johnson can keep up his hot streak and get good support from Nunnally and Serna.
I really don't know who the best guy is to stick on Johnson. He can also play forward, and from watching his highlights, he will pop off from well behind the three-point line, and he's also good at scoring on the drive and cutting through the lane for putback dunks. If his size is too much for Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin, look for Parsons and maybe even Alex Tyus to match up with Johnson.
Now, to end with a little fun. First, UCSB alum Jim Rome already has his celebration planned in case of a win. And you need to watch these two videos from the Gauchos' athletics department, which sounds like a fun place to work. First, there's this Old Spice spoof starting Joyner, and then check out their take on Dos Equis Most Interesting Man In The World.
That should have you primed for tonight's matchup. Anyone out there afraid of UCSB?