UCSB women’s basketball finishes their regular season with a crucial road trip north to Pacific Thursday and UC Davis Saturday, which will ultimately determine if the Gauchos receive a home playoff game in the Big West tournament.
UCSB currently sits in sixth place in the Big West standings with an overall record of 13-14 and 7-7 in conference. Pacific and UC Davis sit in a tie for third with Big West records of 8-6 and each have the same two teams (UCSB and Cal Poly) left to play. If Cal Poly beats the Tigers and Aggies, and the Gauchos come up with two victories, UCSB would take the fourth seed at the very least, guaranteeing the home playoff game.
“These next two games are extremely important for us,” junior forward Sweets Underwood said. “We’d get a home game on Tuesday if we win these two games.”
Having won five of their last six games, the Gauchos are a much improved team from the last time they saw Pacific nearly a month ago, when they lost 52-48. The game at home was a nail biter throughout until an 8-0 run by the Tigers down the stretch clinched the win.
“I think we’re a very different team,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We’re getting points from the inside, so there’s a lot more balance than there was in the beginning of the season.”
While the Gauchos will look to their leading scorer, senior guard Emilie Johnson, UCSB has plenty of options, including sophomore guard Nicole Nesbit, who led the team offensively in the last matchup against UOP with 10 points. Also, in the last six games, junior center Kristen Tilleman has provided a presence inside, averaging 10.3 points per game.
“We’re playing a lot smoother on the offensive end of things,” Mitchell said. “We did a decent job against them defensively [last time], but at that time, we were really struggling offensively. If we can find a flow early, I like our chances.”
Nevertheless, the Gauchos will continue to rely on their league leading defense. On average, UCSB holds its opponents to 35.6 percent shooting and 51.1 points per game.
The Gauchos’ defense will square off against Pacific’s potent offense, which ranks second in the Big West in scoring at about 70 points per game. The Tigers also rank second in three point shooting field goals per game, averaging 5.7. UCSB will need to get its hands up, since this is an area that opponents have successfully taken advantage of all year.
Pacific’s offense is also very balanced. They feature two of the top nine scorers in the Big West in junior forward Kendall Rodriguez and junior guard Erica McKenzie.
“We play everyone straight up man,” Mitchell said. “We’ll probably look at different people guarding players that hurt us last game, but that’ll be the only adjustment we make.”
The two teams contain three of the top rebounders in conference — Rodriguez for Pacific and Tilleman and Underwood for the Gauchos. Last time, the Tigers won the rebounding battle 39-31, despite Tilleman’s 12 boards.
“[Sweets and Tilleman] typically take care of their job on the rebounding side, but we’ll need players like Destini Mason and Kelsey Adrian and other guards getting the long rebounds because they shoot a lot of threes,” Mitchell said.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Alex G. Spanos Center.