UCSB and San Diego State meet at 7pm (PST) in Santa Barbara, Calif. Saturday night to decide the inaugural Pacific Mountain West championship. The winner gets an automatic bid to the Sweet 16, while the loser will be left hoping for one of three at-large bids.
When the Gauchos and Aztecs met in Santa Barbara Feb. 4th, UCSB won 21-14. Both teams have gone convincingly undefeated since then. First-year head coach Matt Hawkins says SDSU has come along way in the last couple of months.
“From our perspective, I think we’ve grown a lot more than most sides and come together a lot better than other sides,” he said.
“The first time we played them we were still trying to understand what system we were going to be playing, and it was hard to get any sort of momentum or rhythm, so I’m looking forward to seeing the guys play again.”
Saturday’s loser will likely be a prime candidate for an at-large bid to the Sweet 16, but both teams would rather not leave their postseason fate in the hands of a committee. For the Aztecs, Hawkins believes the team’s psyche, too, would benefit from beating UCSB.
“If we win this game, we go into the playoffs and anything’s possible, it’s up to us to walk away with whatever we decide to walk away with. But if we don’t, then even if we do go through, you kind of limp through, and you still don’t have your confidence and you’re not quite sure exactly what you’ve got and what you don’t have,” said Hawkins.
“I think it’s very a important game, mentally, but also just as a team growing, I think it’s very, very crucial for us to bounce back from a loss against a team and be able to sort of put them away. I think there’s a lot riding on this game. But at the end of the day, it’s just a game. It’s 80 minutes of rugby, so let’s just go out there and play.”