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The UCSB women’s basketball team looks for its first win of the season tonight when the team plays in its home opener against New Mexico State.
The Gauchos are currently 0-1 after losing their first game of the season on the road to UNLV in a close 58-52 decision. The Aggies, on the other hand, look to stay undefeated at 1-0.
“This home opener is really big for us,” senior center Kirsten Tilleman said. “We cannot start out with two losses, especially since we’re at home. We have to take advantage of that. We’re about to have three games on the road right away in Mexico, and we really need something to slingshot us into that tournament.”
If last year is any indication, this could be another close game for Santa Barbara as UCSB narrowly lost last year in New Mexico 52-51. While the Gauchos outshot the Aggies from the field 50 to 40 percent, New Mexico was on fire from behind the arc, hitting 8-13 threes.
“Most of the time, their threes came when we went to a three-two matchup zone,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “Hopefully, we’re a little more advanced in our half court man and we don’t have to rely on the zone.”
UCSB should match up well against New Mexico, which plays a four-guard lineup. Not only is UCSB deep in the guard department, but the Gauchos should also see a rare height advantage.
“On the offensive end, if we ever have a height advantage — because that doesn’t happen very often — we need to take advantage of that when it’s there,” Tilleman said.
The inside-out game will be crucial for UCSB. Last year, the Gauchos outscored the Aggies 20-10 in paint buckets.
“We have to find a way to get a post player involved in double-figure scoring,” Mitchell said. “We understand that’ll make Nic and Mel’s lives a bit easier if they can get some open jumpers, but the only way to do that is if we’ve established an inside presence early on in the game.”
One of those guards UCSB will keep a close eye on is senior Stefanie Gilbreath, a transfer from USC. In the Aggies’ exhibition game, Gilbreath scored 26 points in 23 minutes on 10-14 shooting.
“[We’ll] change it up on her and give her different bodies,”Mitchell said.“Great players, a lot of times, will find ways to get their points, but you have to be cautious of letting other people get involved and scoring above their averages.”
In New Mexico’s first game of the season against Loyola Marymount, the Lions shut down Gilbreath, holding her to 12 points on 3-15 shooting, but her teammates picked up the slack. Redshirt senior forward Kelsie Rozendaal tallied 22 points and 11 boards while sophomore guard Danesia Williamson contributed 19 points in the 77-76 victory.
In the end, the game may come down to tempo. The Aggies want to score, averaging 78.5 points per game. The Gauchos, on the other hand, would like the game to be determined on the defensive end. Known for its tenacious defense, UCSB has only averaged 52 points per game and will try to keep the two teams’ point totals much lower.
“We play through our defense,” Tilleman said. “We need to get more aggressive; we were disappointed with our defense against UNLV. We need to not see a number or a player or a jersey and just play like we normally do.”
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of November 14th, 2012′s print edition of the Nexus.