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The competition gets no easier heading forward for the UCSB women’s basketball team.
Coming off a brutal loss to top contender Cal Poly Saturday in the team’s Big West opener, the Gauchos face Long Beach State today and Cal State Northridge Saturday; teams expected to finish fourth and third in the Big West, respectively.
Santa Barbara has lost six of its last seven games, heading into Long Beach at 5-9 overall and 0-1 in the Big West.
Last Saturday, the Gauchos were blown out 88-70 by the Mustangs in the first Blue-Green rivalry game of the season. Two players nearly single-handedly took down UCSB with 6’5’’ senior center Molly Schlemer scoring a career-high 37 points and junior guard Ariana Elegado totaling 30 points.
“You have to have a short term period, especially in conference because you have a game on Thursday and then a game on Saturday,” senior guard Destini Mason said. “I know I was thinking about it the entire weekend, so we have to let it go. Right now, we’re focused on Long Beach. They’re just as good.”
The 49ers have compiled a 9-7 overall and 1-1 conference mark thus far, defeating UC Irvine before losing to UC Davis. In both games, Long Beach came from behind in the second half.
After giving up 88 points against Cal Poly, the focus this week for UCSB is 100 percent on defense.
“We haven’t worked on one thing offensively this week,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “Early in the year, as a head coach, I made that adjustment [to run] because we had no bigs, but now as we go into conference play and into postseason, there’s no way we’re going to win unless we play defense.”
Offensively, Long Beach features balanced scoring and is a team currently playing through its guards. Freshman guard Raven Benton leads the 49ers at 14.4 points per game while two-time All-Big West honorable selection member Alex Sanchez averages 11.3 points per game.
“They have [Benton], who is pretty fast. She can knock down the jumper and get to the rim,” freshman guard Onome Jemerigbe said. “Then they also have two other bigger guards that can play a post. We just have to play some good ‘D.’”
However, the 49ers’ recipe for success this season has been on the defensive end. They lead the Big West in steals with 11.2 per game, 13.5 during conference play and rank second in blocks with 4.1 per game.
Luckily for UCSB, the Gauchos top the Big West in turnovers, giving the ball away just 13.7 times per contest.
“The things that they do that’s messed with a lot of people is that they switch defenses every trip down the floor,” Mitchell said. “So whether they’re going 2-2-1, 1-3-1, or 3-2, they’re switching it up and it’s causing people to turn the ball over. Hopefully by us playing two point guards and four guards most of the time, it will alleviate some of the turnovers.”
This matchup with Long Beach should suit Santa Barbara well as UCSB also plays through its guards. Senior guard Nicole Nesbit ranks third in the league in points per game with 17.6. Mason and senior guard Melissa Zornig, both of whom stepped up in San Luis Obispo, also average double-digits with 14.0 and 13.3 points per game, respectively. Mason scored a career-high 24 points Saturday and both Zornig and Mason shot 4-5 from three point range.
As a result, UCSB is the only team in the Big West to feature three players in the top 14 in scoring.
“It’s funny because we don’t even talk about it. We know our roles and what we need to contribute to the game,” Mason said. “We’re seniors putting the team on our backs because we have a lot of newcomers. We know the system, so we’re getting shots we know we shoot well at and knocking them down.”
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Walter Pyramid.
A version of this article appears on page 7 of January 16, 2013′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Shaminder Dhindsa of The Daily Nexus.