With well over more than half the season to play, it seems odd to say that Saturday’s match between #23 University of San Diego (1-0) and #4 UCSB (2-0) could make or break either team’s playoff hopes, but realistically, it could. UCSB has already lambasted Loyola Marymount and UC Irvine, and after losing decidedly to both Loyola Marymount and USD, USC doesn’t figure to be in the postseason picture.
If UCSB wins on the road against USD, it takes a stranglehold on the Southern California conference race, and a road game at Loyola Marymount would be the only possible remaining game the Gauchos could enter without being favored. In that case, the Toreros would have to steal one in Santa Barbara and probably run the rest of their respective table to get back in the title hunt. However, if the Toreros hold serve at home, they announce themselves a legit contender.
USD coach Jim Wilson acknowledges that Saturday’s game holds a lot of weight, but he won’t put his whole season on one game.
“I think the team that wins this game will feel they’re in the driver seat, yes,” he said. “But let’s not overlook Loyola or UC Irvine or USC. I’ll tell you, USC had some big kids on that field, and it’s just a matter of them training it up. That’ll be a different team the next time we play them. You know Loyola and UC Irvine are going to continue to improve…I wouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket in this game at all. There are three other teams in this league that if you don’t pay attention to will come up and beat you.”
USD enters the contest at a bit of a disadvantage, as the Toreros got back to campus after the holiday break considerably late, and they’ve been able to play just two games in the new year, compared to the Gauchos’ six. Add to that how dominant UCSB has looked so far in conference play, and the Toreros know they’ve got their hands full this weekend.
“The reality is Santa Barbara has beaten handily Loyola and UC Irvine, and those are two teams that last year we didn’t beat. You think about that stuff,” said Wilson.
“Santa Barbara’s the real deal this year. It’s sort of an interesting situation. They were a quality DI team for many years, top in Southern California, and they had one bad year, and now they find themselves in a situation I think they’re pissed about. I think they want to prove something, and they’ve got their foot on the gas right now.”
Likewise, UCSB coach Kevin Battle respects his opponent in USD. “We know San Diego’s going to provide a tough test. They’re a gritty team, they’re well coached,” he said. “San Diego’s always been a tough team. They might not have a bunch of game breakers, but they have some tough, gritty kids that don’t stop coming at you. We’re going to need an improved performance when we play them.”
Elsewhere in SoCal, Loyola returns home and attempts to get back in the win column against UC Irvine.