Gauchos hope for reprieve with visit from UNC

November, 18, 2008
For those directly affected it will take months, if not years, to get over the fires that engulfed homes in the area surrounding UC Santa Barbara.

But for one Friday night, UCSB coach Bob Williams is hoping to offer a bit of a distraction.

The timing of top-ranked North Carolina playing at Santa Barbara (10 p.m. EST on ESPNU) may offer up a bit of an emotional reprieve.

"It's a great distraction for the community," Williams said. "It's not going to cover the emotional and property loss, things that you can't replace. But we hope it's an exciting time for the community. We hope we put on a good show and give them something else to talk about rather than the fires this week."

Williams said a number of school employees and boosters have lost homes in the fires. Williams wasn't affected since his home is closer to the beach. He said the air quality is improving daily.

The Gauchos (1-1) -- picked to be a potential title contender in the Big West this season -- may have been distracted themselves Monday night, losing to Utah State at home 61-59.

Getting North Carolina to play at UCSB wasn't as difficult as it would seem. The Gauchos have hosted a top-ranked team before: UCSB used to play UNLV when Jerry Tarkanian had it rolling in the 1980s and early '90s in the Big West.

But Williams' relationship with North Carolina coach Roy Williams got this deal done. The two coaches, who aren't related, became good friends while serving on a National Association of Basketball Coaches ethics committee. Roy Williams loves to recruit California and Bob Williams said when Roy was recruiting Reno, Nevada's David Padgett for Kansas, Bob recommended that Padgett go to KU since Padgett's father had worked for Bob Williams. Padgett did go to KU but ended up playing for Bill Self for a bit when Williams left for Carolina. Padgett ultimately ended up at Louisville, where in his senior season he helped Rick Pitino get to the Elite Eight before losing to Williams and North Carolina.

Roy and Bob worked out a two-for-one series with the Gauchos going to Chapel Hill three years ago, and then again last season and now the Tar Heels are going to Santa Barbara on Friday, en route to the Maui Invitational next Monday.

"The town has been excited for months," Williams said of the Tar Heels' arrival. "It's been a while since we've had a team of this magnitude here. It's the toughest ticket by far the past 11 years."

Williams said the key for the Gauchos to pull off the upset is to ensure they don't play into the Tar Heels' tempo.

"You've got to hit the open shots to stay in the game," Williams said. "If you miss, they're on you so quick. We were 11-1 when we rolled in there last year but they were on us, by us, so fast and so hard."

• Louisville coach Rick Pitino told me on ESPN that he thought changing the 3-point distance to 20-feet, 9-inches would have a subtle effect on the game. But since playing exhibition games and watching regular-season games he has decided (and I agree) that it is having no effect on the season, so far.

• Florida coach Billy Donovan said the Gators will rely heavily on the 3-point shot this season. The Gators made 14 3s in the win over Bradley on Sunday.

Donovan said the development of the Gators' frontcourt will be interesting to watch this season. He said Kenny Kadji isn't ready to play major minutes yet, but will be soon. And he fully expects the future frontcourt of Kadji, Alex Tyus, Allan Chaney and Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin in 2009-10 will provide the necessary balance for the Gators. He said Chaney has been getting tired and fatigued but "he's really tough and physical."

Donovan said losing point guard Jai Lucas does hurt the Gators, since Lucas was a starter a year ago. Lucas wanted to have the ball in his hands more often, but with Nick Calathes doing much of the ballhandling, Donovan said he couldn't provide that for him.

Donovan said he has no problems with Lucas transferring within the SEC. He said the Florida compliance department has received requests for a release from Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, TCU, Arkansas, Stanford and least two other schools he couldn't remember.

• The SEC continues to get off to a rocky start. Loyola (Ill.) knocked off Georgia 74-53 in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off in West Lafayette, Ind., Monday night. This was the first win for Loyola against an SEC team since 1964.

So far the SEC has suffered losses to Loyola (Ill.), Mercer (Alabama) and VMI (Kentucky).

• Oregon is going to be a work in progress. But the Ducks probably didn't think they would be rebuilding through losses at home. The Ducks fell to Oakland (Mich.) and Johnathon Jones' 32 points Monday night. The more I see the Pac-10 results, the more I'm convinced Washington State will finish no lower than fourth and make the NCAA tournament. The Cougars will win enough games in the league to warrant a bid.

• The Marquette coaches may have oversold Jerel McNeal to me and undersold Wesley Matthews. Matthews opened with 27 points against Houston Baptist and then poured in 26 in a win over Chicago State.

• If you had a fantasy team you probably should put Jarvis Varnado on your squad. The Mississippi State center racks up big numbers in rebounds and blocks. He had 11 boards and seven blocks in a win over Centenary and another 11 boards and nine blocks in a win over Louisiana-Monroe.

• Nice debut for Georgetown's Greg Monroe with 14 points and seven boards, but just as important was the play of Chris Wright at the point with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists as Wright takes over for the invaluable Jonathan Wallace.

• One of the most important transfers in the ACC will be Joe Trapani. The former Vermont forward gives Boston College a new dimension in a face-up scoring forward who can also score inside when necessary. He finishes Tyrese Rice's passes, something that didn't happen as frequently last season. Trapani scored 20 in the win over Loyola (Md.) on Monday night.

Levance Fields was hurt, right? Geez, it's hard to tell with the Pitt guard looking in March form with a dozen points and the same number of assists in the win over Miami of Ohio.

• I was asked on our show Tuesday morning to predict winners in the Ivy and CAA and I'm not shy about saying I do think Yale can pull off the upset and win the Ivy over Cornell and Penn. I'm sticking with my pick of Northeastern over VCU, Old Dominion and George Mason in the CAA.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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