Halfway through the Big West season, UCSB finds itself mired in the middle — its current 4-4 record a far cry from the conference domination it has enjoyed in recent years.
However, despite having already lost three more conference games than all of last year, the Gauchos are by no means out of the running. In fact, seven of the nine Big West schools are within three games of first place, and Santa Barbara might have the biggest upside of the bunch. But to make a late-season push at the conference title, UCSB has to get off on the right foot tonight at home against Pacific.
And while Pacific is currently last in conference after the Gauchos handled the Tigers on the road in their first matchup, UCSB is not taking anything for granted.
“We cannot take any team lightly in the Big West,” senior forward Jordan Franey said, “because it’s an absolute chaotic race this year.”
Pacific is led by sophomore center Christina Thompson, whose 12.4 points per game lead the team. In the first match, however, UCSB neutralized Thompson for six points, two rebounds and no assists (with three turnovers). Against the Gauchos it was freshman point guard Erica McKenzie that really shined, notching 22 points on 7-16 shooting (6-14 from downtown).
For UCSB, sophomore point guard Emilie Johnson, senior guard Meagan Williams and junior center Mekia Valentine have been leading the way with double digit points per game. Valentine also averages 7.1 rebounds per game and has already broken the Santa Barbara single-season blocks record with 70. On top of that, Johnson and Williams are 1-2 in both assists and steals on the team.
USCB’s Achilles heel this season has been turnovers, but the team has begun to right the ship as of late. Eighteen turnovers against Cal State Northridge were manageable, and the Gauchos are hoping to keep that number even lower.
“We finally understand how much it means to value every possession,” Franey said. “If we keep focusing on us, and the things that we need to work on and improve on, I think that we should come out successful.”
Tip-off is slated for 7 tonight at the Thunderdome, and tickets are free for students.
Miles Yim contributed to this article.