With the struggles the UCSB women’s basketball team has faced in Big West play this season, the Gauchos are taking a new mentality going into the second round of conference play.
After starting the season 4-4 against quality competition, UCSB has lost 11 of its last 14 games. Looking at the halfway mark as a fresh start, Santa Barbara is simply looking forward rather than backwards.
The road to redemption begins tonight when it welcomes Long Beach State to the Thunderdome.
“Basically, we’re 0-0. We have to come out with the same mentality we did at the beginning of the year,” freshman guard Onome Jemerigbe said. “We obviously want to win, so we’re going to go out there and get after it.”
At 1-7 in the Big West and 6-15 overall, the Gauchos have a lot of ground to make up if they plan to dig out of their eighth place standing as they sit three games out of seventh place. Long Beach, on the other hand, is in a tight race at the top of the Big West standings. The 49ers currently are in a four-way tie for third place with a 5-4 conference and 13-10 overall mark.
“I’ve been fired up the last couple days,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “The Big West is still up for grabs. I know Poly’s kind of set the tone, but in my imaginary world — and I have a great imagination — we win eight. That puts us at 9-7 and that could cause some chaos in March or April.”
The last time these two teams met up, Long Beach came away with the decisive 72-53 victory.
UCSB kept the game close in the first half, entering the locker room down just five points. However, Santa Barbara made critical errors to open the second half, playing into the hands of the 49ers, who currently lead the Big West in steals with 10.5 per game. While the Gauchos lead the league in turnovers with just over 14 per game, Santa Barbara committed 20 turnovers in Long Beach, including six in the first six minutes of the second half.
“You have to handle their changing defenses; I think that’s number one because they mix it up all night long,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t have the attack mentality. We can’t stand back on our heels. We have to go from tip, and let them know that changing defenses can’t affect us.”
The 49ers were the clear aggressors throughout as they shot 21-27 from the free throw line, compared to 7-8 for the Gauchos.
“I took it really personally,” senior guard Destini Mason said. “I got emotional because we lost to them by 20. Now, it’s time for payback. With each team, it’s payback.”
One bright spot on the evening was the play of Mason, who nearly recorded a double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds. One of three seniors anchoring the UCSB squad this season, Mason, senior guard Nicole Nesbit and senior guard Melissa Zornig account for 63.4 percent of the team’s points.
“Nothing’s different. I’m not going into [the game] saying, ‘I’m going to score 24 points,’” Mason said. “I’m just going to take good shots, and be in a good rhythm. You know you’ve done it before, you can always do it again.”
As for the 49ers, Long Beach ranks third in the conference in scoring, putting an average of 71 points on the scoreboard. The 49ers are a team known for playing through their guards and have a multitude of players who can step up any given night.
While Long Beach has no players in the top 10 in scoring in the Big West, the team is led by freshman guard Raven Benton, who averages 13.6 points per game. Yet, in the first meeting, it was junior guard Lauren Spargo who put the team on her shoulders, tying her career-high with 19 points. She averages 10.1 points per game while junior guard and Big West honorable mention Alex Sanchez, who was a non-factor in the first match-up, averages 10.4 points per game.
“They’re very blue-collar and there will be a mismatch problem at times, especially if they go with two power forwards,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to go small, and make them have to make the adjustments on the defensive end.”
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of February 14, 2014′s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Anna Kodelashvili of The Daily Nexus.