UCSB is heading into the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament for the second consecutive year and the fifth time in school history. The Gauchos (18-13) were slotted as a No. 15 seed in the Southeast Region and will play second-seeded Florida (26-7) on Thursday (March 17) in Tampa. Tipoff is scheduled at 3:45 p.m. (Pacific time).
The Gauchos earned their berth by making a championship run through the Big West Tournament in Anaheim. They were seeded fifth but knocked off No. 4 Pacific (79-67), No. 3 Cal State Northridge (83-63), and No. 1 Long Beach State (64-56). Those three teams had gone 6-0 against UCSB during the regular season.
Junior guard Orlando Johnson averaged 28.3 points for the Gauchos and was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Two other juniors, guard James Nunnally and forward Jaime Serna, made the all-tournament team. All three players started for last year’s Big West champions, who also were a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament and lost to Ohio State, 68-51, in Milwaukee.
Ohio State goes into this year’s NCAA tournament as the nation’s top-ranked team. Florida is ranked No. 12. After winning their division of the Southeastern Conference, the Gators lost to Kentucky on Sunday in the SEC Tournament final, 70-54. Coach Billy Donovan took Florida to back-to-back national championships in 2006-07.
Tickets to a two-game NCAA session in Tampa, which also includes UCLA versus Michigan State, will be on sale to the public at UCSB after noon Monday (March 14). The cost is $82. Call (805) 893-UCSB.