Despite a disappointing loss against Whittier (71-58) at the Kaiser Permanente Arena on Friday night, the men’s basketball team came back with a close win against Linfield College (59-50) on Sunday to round out an overall successful weekend. The team is currently 2-2 having wrapped up the Holiday Inn Express Classic this past weekend, and looks to the older players to guide the team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) final game.

“[The older players] set the bar and show the other guys how to win and compete,” said head coach Ron DuBois. “They have been through the battles, they are the ones keeping us up and motivated and moving on to the next play. When you are young it is easy to get discouraged, but moving on to the next play is how you are going to be successful.”

The team is very young, DuBois said, with nine new freshman recruits who have much to learn from the upperclassmen. For the experienced players, setting an example for the team of 22 is no easy task.

“I have to make sure I’m on my ‘A’ game to set an example,” said senior captain James Townsend. “It is easy to say [the team is] unselfish and treat people with respect, but for the freshmen to see what that actually looks like is what we want. Actions speak louder than words.”

Townsend, junior guard Jared Ponce and senior Marshal Arnwine are just a few of the experienced players. Ponce led all scorers with 23 points against Linfield on Sunday. Marshal Arnwine had a personal career high of four steals out of an overall 12 against Linfield.

Townsend, a two-time all independent nominee had 14 total rebounds this weekend. With a strong start to his last season, Townsend has high hopes for his last year as a Slug.

“We all want to make the [NCAA] tournament, it’s been my goal all three years,” Townsend said. ”The last couple of years we haven’t had the depth to make a run like that, but now is the perfect timing. There is really no excuse as far as experience, we should be ready achieve that goal. It’s now or never.”

But making NCAA won’t be easy. Men’s basketball is an independent, pool B team, meaning that, for them, nationals isn’t guaranteed. There are 400 Division III teams that compete for 60 spots in the NCAA tournament.  Most of these teams make the automatic bid for pool A, but because the UC Santa Cruz men’s team is an independent team that belongs to pool B, they have a harder time making the cut.  About 15-20 teams compete for this bid, but only a few are selected. The team will have to win at least 70 percent of its 18 Division III games to be considered for the national game.

“Men’s basketball has never made a national tournament,” coach DuBois said. “There is not much tradition in it here, and that’s what we are here for. We are here to change the culture and expectations.  This is just the beginning, the future is bright.”