Ian Billings/Staff Photographer

Men’s basketball is set to play UCSB in its last home game of the season on Saturday.

Evan Morter

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The season finale has arrived for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team. The Mustangs will host Central Coast rival UC Santa Barbara and its Big West leading scorer, junior forward Alan Williams, with a chance to sweep the season series in Mott Athletics Center (MAC) on Saturday.

Cal Poly (10-18, 6-9 Big West) defeated the Gauchos (19-8, 10-4 Big West) 72-64 fueled by 11 successful 3-point field goals in the first meeting between the teams at The Thunderdome in January. Williams scored 33 points and collected 15 boards in the teams’ last meeting and will again be the center of attention Saturday night, assistant coach Sam Kirby said.

“It’s hard to slow him down,” Kirby said. “It’s hard to push him out of the paint. He’s such a big guy and he uses his body so well. So we will look to shrink his court space.”

Williams is No. 12 in the nation in points scored with 21.6 per contest and second in the NCAA with 11.6 rebounds per game this season.

Though the Mustangs will look to limit Williams’ production, Kirby said the main objective is to neutralize the rest of the dangerous UC Santa Barbara offense.

The Gauchos possess a trifecta of outside threats in Michael Bryson, Kyle Boswell and Taran Brown — a 30-point combination most nights for UC Santa Barbara.

The Mustangs shut down the trio of Gauchos in their last meeting by allowing just 15 points and one three-point field goal from the guards.

As the conference season draws to a close, UC Santa Barbara is the final team the Mustangs will face before the Big West Conference Tournament.

“I don’t think this team has doubted each other at any point this season,” senior point guard Jamal Johnson said. “The entire team thinks we can achieve our goal of winning the Big West tournament. I don’t think the team feels our goal isn’t achievable anymore.”

Saturday night’s game will be the last in the MAC for Johnson, and he described his emotions heading into senior night as double-sided.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “You don’t want to leave, but at the same time, at some point you have to step away.”

Seniors Chris Eversley and Kyle Odister will also see their final game at home on Saturday, before marching into the madness of their final Big West tournament.

“The Big West tournament is nuts,” Kirby said. “Anybody can beat anybody.”

The Mustangs currently find themselves tied for sixth place, and a victory against UC Santa Barbara could move them into fifth.

However, the team’s momentum is much more important than its seeding, Johnson said.

“As long as we keep getting better,” he said. “Carrying momentum into the next game is probably the most important thing we need to do.”

The ticket to the NCAA tournament — the mecca of college basketball — is earned with a championship title in the Big West tournament. The hot team heading into the tournament is typically the one to take it all, and though the Mustangs dropped their last contest in a tightly fought battle against first-place UC Irvine, Johnson believes the team is getting hot.

“We need to carry what we did against Irvine into this week against Santa Barbara and then into three big games in the Big West tournament,” Johnson said.

The conference tournament kicks off March 13 in a set of three single-elimination rounds at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

“We’ve had an up-and-down season, but we’ve never lost faith in anybody,” Kirby said. “It’s all about moving forward and keep improving. The most important part of the season is coming up in the Big West tournament. So we’ll be ready for that.”

Cal Poly has won four of its last 13 games since the road win against the Gauchos, while UC Santa Barbara has won 10 games in that stretch. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Stephan Teodosescu contributed to this report.

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