Tonight against UC Riverside, the UCSB women’s basketball team will have the opportunity to do something they have yet to do all season: win three consecutive games.
The Gauchos enter tonight’s game in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big West with an 8-11 overall and 4-3 conference mark.
“It would be a big confidence booster for us if and when we get that third one, so it’s extremely important,” senior forward Sweets Underwood said. “That’s our focus.”
Santa Barbara comes off of two critical road wins against Northridge and Hawaii last week. UCSB handily defeated Northridge for the 12th consecutive time, using a 20-6 second half run and solid defense to earn a 56-37 victory. Against Hawaii, in a game that went down to the wire, junior guard Nicole Nesbit came up with the winning basket to give the Gauchos a 51-50 victory and hand the Rainbow Wahine their first home conference loss of the year.
“We never want to get too high or too low,” junior guard Melissa Zornig said. “It was great that we got those two wins, but we still need to take care of business the next couple games and take it game by game.”
At 5-4, UCSB has proved it can win on the road, but now Santa Barbara will have to prove it can win at home as the Gauchos are only 2-5 at the Thunderdome.
“We’ve done a better job on the road of sticking to the key things — our defensive principles and executing offensively,” Underwood said. “We have yet to do that at home.”
Riverside enters the game in ninth place in conference at 9-9 overall and 2-5 in league and has lost two straight games.
“You can look at their record and it can be misleading,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “They had a great win against Washington State in the Pac-12 and they beat Long Beach State, who beat us, so I don’t think their record is indicative of the type of team they are or the abilities that they have.”
Riverside features possibly the best player in the Big West in senior guard Tre’Shonti Nottingham, who leads the conference in points with 18.3 and ranks second in steals with 2.9 per game. “She’s a big time player,” Underwood said. “She’s a point guard who does it all. They run everything through and to her and our game plan is to throw a couple different bodies on her.” Although known for their defense, holding teams to a league-leading 54.5 points per game, the Gauchos have put together two straight solid offensive performances. Against Northridge and Hawaii, the team averaged 47.3 percent shooting from the field.
“We’re still taking fewer shots than our opponents, so to me, that’s key,” Mitchell said. “That probably means we’re taking good shots. We’re not shooting quick shots in transition and it’s more of an attack mentality.”
Fueling UCSB’s offense has been Underwood, who won this week’s Big West Player of the Week Award after a double-double against Northridge and a 13-point performance in Hawaii. Overall, she ranks third in the Big West in rebounding, grabbing 8.5 boards per contest, and fourth in field goal percentage at 50.9 percent.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of January 31st, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.