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The makings for a storybook ending are set for the UCSB women’s basketball team.
It will be senior day.
The Gauchos can also clinch the eighth and final playoff spot with a victory. A season where Santa Barbara has struggled, a win would send UCSB into the Big West Tournament with momentum.
And to top it all off, the Gauchos are facing rival Cal Poly, a team Head Coach Mitchell has yet to beat since arriving in Santa Barbara almost three years ago. Only the three seniors know the feeling of winning a Blue-Green rivalry game as they beat the Mustangs March 5, 2011 to become co-champions of the Big West.
Now all the team has to do is win.
“These players dictate if we’re going to have five games,” Mitchell said. “They have to know that myself and this coaching staff believe as we have from day one. It has to be a positive energy going into Cal Poly.”
But beating Cal Poly is much more easily said than done.
UCSB enters tomorrow’s game the underdog with an overall record of 8-20 and a conference mark of 3-12. The Gauchos hold a one-game lead over UC Riverside, which plays Long Beach in its final game. The first time those two teams played, the Highlanders lost 65-52.
Cal Poly, on the other hand, comes to the Thunderdome in a tie for second place in the Big West standings at 16-12 overall and 10-5 in conference. While the Mustangs seemed invincible to start the season, they have struggled of late, losing four of their last six.
Cal Poly will also be well-rested since it had a buy yesterday. Santa Barbara, however, will have to bounce back quickly from a red-eye flight home after a 73-60 loss in Hawaii last night. The Gauchos were outrebounded 38-25, including 17-8 on the offensive boards, which resulted in a 25-7 second chance points disadvantage.
“Coach Mitch always tells us after a loss, ‘you have until midnight and then you have to forget about it and move on to the next one,’” Zornig said. “We just have to forget about this one and go in ready to play. Cal Poly is a good team and they’re our rivals, so it’s about time we get a win against them.”
Rebounding will once again be crucial tomorrow. Not only is it the biggest statistical difference in the win-loss column for the Gauchos, but the Mustangs lead the Big West in rebounding, grabbing 44.4 per game. UCSB ranks last at 34.0 boards per game.
Yet, before Santa Barbara can rebound, it will have to play solid defense and force Cal Poly into some bad shots. A team that wins on the offensive end, the Mustangs top the conference in scoring at 77.1 points per game.
Cal Poly’s biggest target offensively is last year’s Big West Player of the year Molly Schlemer. The senior center averages 17.3 points per game, leads the Big West in field goal percentage at 55.2 percent and ranks second in rebounding, pulling down 10.4 boards per game.
Clearing out the middle for Schlemer is three-point threat and junior guard Ariana Elegado. Elegado ranks right behind Schlemer in scoring in the Big West, putting up a fifth-best 16.5 points per game.
“I think the biggest key will be our defense,” Zornig said. “They have Schlemer inside, who’s a beast in there, and then they have really good outside shooters, so we just have to have a lot of communication on defense.”
The last time these two teams met up in San Luis Obispo for the first Big West game of the year, the Mustangs were victorious thanks to their star duo. Schemer scored a career-high 37 points on 16-20 shooting along with 15 rebounds while Elegado hit big threes for Cal Poly, recording 30 points. Combining for 67 points, Schlemer and Elegado tallied just three points less than the entire UCSB squad.
Trying to slow down the 6’5’’ Schlemer inside will be 6’4’’ junior center Clair Watkins. Although Watkins struggled in Hawaii, she is a very different player than when Cal Poly last saw her. Before the Hawaii game, Watkins had caught fire, averaging a double-double in the three previous games.
“I think we’re better than the first time we played them, but we will use any combination of defenses we need to to hopefully limit [Schlemer],” Mitchell said. “But it’s not a one player show. They have great guards. We know what we have to do and hopefully with one game left on senior day, we’ll put it all together.”
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. at the Thunderdome.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.