Losing seven of its last eight games, the UCSB women’s basketball team is ready to start anew and begin the second round of Big West play. However, before the Gauchos can do this, they’ll have one last opponent to get through today: Hawaii.
Santa Barbara enters today’s game in a big slump at 6-14 overall and 1-6 in conference, leaving the team in eighth place. Meanwhile, Hawaii sits in a three-way tie for third place in the Big West with a 10-9 overall and 4-3 Big West mark.
“We gotta win,” junior center Clair Watkins said. “We’re just trying to gel more as a team every day, work harder and get in better shape. We’re just looking to turn our season around.”
While both games against the Rainbow Wahine were decided by one possession last season with each team winning on the opposing team’s home court, Hawaii will serve as a tougher matchup this year due to its size.
“Last year, we played forwards Angelei Aguirre, Kirsten Tilleman and Sweets Underwood all at the same time,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We know they can guard threes, fours and fives, so we were able to take a lot of switches last year. Even on the offensive side, that helped us because we were able to play a little more physical. I’ll be interested to see if we can play two small guards at the same time with [Onome and Nicole.]”
The Rainbow Wahine essentially play four power forwards and a point guard, so while they don’t have incredible height like the Gauchos have seen in the past, they are a bigger team overall and play an extremely physical game.
“They’re physical, so it’s not just going to be a test on the basketball side of it, but it’s a physical test and a mental test because they beat you up,” Mitchell said. “We will have to be ready to play blue-collar basketball.”
The biggest target for Hawaii on offense will be senior forward Kamilah Jackson, who is a force down low despite the fact that she stands at just 5’11’’. She ranks sixth in the Big West in points at 15.8 per game, third in field goal percentage at 51.7 percent and third in rebounding, grabbing 9.8 points per game.
“She’s a beast. We’ve talked about getting in front of her because if she catches it, you’re done,” sophomore guard Jasmine Ware said. “We have to box her out, so we’re going to try to contain her on that end of scoring and boxing her out because she gets a lot of their rebounds. She’s averaging a double-double.”
Jackson will address the Gauchos’ biggest weakness because all season long, Santa Barbara has struggled with consistency, especially on the defensive end.
In its last two games against UC Irvine and UC Davis, UCSB has played well in the first half and remained in contention at halftime, but then fallen apart in the second half, falling prey to defensive breakdowns. Against the Aggies, the Gauchos gave up a fatal 47 points in the second, compared to 35 in the first half.
“Both games were close at one point and we let them get away from us,” Watkins said. “I think the biggest lesson we learned is that we have to put two halves together.”
One of those defensive breakdowns has been failing to rebound in critical moments. Rebounding makes all the difference for Santa Barbara, which averages 40.7 boards per game in victories and 31 in losses.
“We just have to be physical,” Watkins said. “We haven’t rebounded as well as coach would’ve liked this season so far, but we’re looking to turn our season around and it starts with rebounds.”
Although the focus won’t be on offense tonight as UCSB hasn’t struggled nearly as much on that end of the floor, Hawaii is a great defensive team. The Rainbow Wahine top the conference in scoring defense, holding teams to 65.1 points per game.
“The good thing for our kids’ mindsets is that they play majority man defense,” Mitchell said. “They can take a lot of switches because they’re basically all the same size, so we just have to make the right reads out of that. We have to trust and make the extra pass.”
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of Feb. 6th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Shaminder Dhindsa of the Daily Nexus.