Sean White / Daily Nexus

UC Santa Barbara – Calvin Thrift

The regular season has come and gone for the UCSB women’s basketball team, with head coach Bonnie Henrickson now faced with the task of guiding her squad to learn from regular season mistakes as the Big West conference continues.

The Gauchos, second in Big West standings, are 6-10 overall following a rough start to the season featuring difficult matchups with Pac-12 foes UCLA and Oregon State.

Despite the team’s sub-par record at this point, the Gauchos are looking for progress and another come-from-behind conference season. Four games in, it looks like Santa Barbara is on the right track.

Heading into conference play last season featured Santa Barbara sitting at 5-8; however, the Gauchos came alive in Big West play, going 9-7 and improving to 16-16 overall to close out the season at .500.

UCSB went on to compete against Long Beach State in the Big West Championship, falling just short of the 49ers.

While there have certainly been rough patches through Santa Barbara’s 2017-2018 campaign thus far, the Gauchos have demonstrated continual improvement. Improvement that, if continued, will perhaps carry Santa Barbara to another successful run in the Big West.

“I’m process-oriented, I’m not result oriented. If you focus on just a result, you’re not going to address the process element of the result. So for us, continuing to grow stretches where we play well and execute and we have the effort and the energy and the attention to detail it takes to be successful,” Henrickson said.

“Then shrink the stretches of the opposite of that where we’ve not been disciplined, we’ve not been dialed in and not brought energy.”

While turnovers remain a frustrating stat for UCSB, the Gauchos are finding ways to win. In their victory over New Mexico State, the Gauchos turned the ball over 22 times in spite of winning by 30 points. In the close win against rival Cal Poly, UCSB committed 33 turnovers. Santa Barbara’s averaging 17.8 turnovers per game this season, but 19.3 in conference play.

Despite turnover woes, the Gauchos have been finding their rhythm offensively as they work the ball inside to redshirt senior Drew Edelman more effectively.

Edelman is having an even better year than last season and that’s with her early battles with various injuries.

The 6’4 forward is posting a statline of 14.3 points per game, which is almost four more points than she averaged last season, to go along with 9.4 boards.

When simply looking at Santa Barbara’s results this season, it may be easy to dismiss the Gauchos in favor of Big West teams with better records.

But, it is the constant adjustment as well as overall improvement that carries a team through a season, which Henrickson understands.

“Good players and good teams find success and get better because they eliminate the things that don’t work and bad teams stay bad because they continue to do the things that don’t work,” said Henrickson. “[The Big West] is really good, young, fun and talented and exciting.”

With momentum and anticipation of Big West competition, the Gauchos will certainly be put to the test as they seek to improve the process rather than simply the result.

Long Beach State – Andrew Hernandez

The 2017-2018 season has not been kind to the 49ers of the Long Beach State women’s basketball team so far. The team’s overall record of 2-16 is a far cry from the 9-6 record the team had at the end of its non-conference schedule last season.

The 49ers have had difficulty establishing a winning rhythm, and are winless at 0-4 in conference play.

The team had eight players, including four seniors, leave from last year’s squad but were able to fill the spots by bringing seven freshmen to the team. Among those freshmen were Ma’Qhi Berry, Shanaijah Davison and Emma Merriweather, who have done their best to make their impact on the team felt. Each player has scored 100+ points so far this season, but the team has still found themselves coming up short.

The 49ers’ last win came on Dec. 7 in an exciting game that came down to the final minutes when senior Cecily Wilson put LBSU ahead by six with a layup. The 49ers were able to hold off GCU until time expired.

Wilson is the only senior present within the team’s top four scorers and currently leads the 49ers in rebounds, averaging 6.6 a game. The veteran presence on the team has certainly taken a dive due to last year’s departures, but Wilson has shown that the team has the potential to do well given their significant amount of youth and guidance from the more experienced members of the team.

“In order for us to be successful in conference play, we have to be more consistent on both ends off the floor. We have to stay disciplined and maintain our effort for 40 min,” Head Coach Jeff Cammon said. “To be specific, limit second chance opportunities by boxing out/rebounding on defensive end. Lastly, we have to take care of the ball and value possessions on [the] offensive end. This conference is tough, and we have to have a competitive mentality every night.”

The 49ers will host UCSB Saturday, Jan. 20 at 4 p.m.

Cal Poly – Richard Benites

Following last season’s below average 7-9 record in Big West conference play, the Cal Poly women’s basketball team entered this year with something to prove.

Now 8-7 overall, the Mustangs will try to find areas in which they can improve their game.

They currently hold a conference record of 2-1 as the Big West competition unfurls.

After ending third to last in the previous Big West regular season, Cal Poly’s Head Coach Faith Mimnaugh will want to return to major tournament play during her 21st season in the manager role and after four appearances in either the NCAA Tournament or WNIT since 2011.

To help achieve this she’ll look to her most veteran players for help on reaching this team goal.

Trying to improve upon last season’s seeding of No. 7 overall, Cal Poly has already started off on the right foot with their 2-1 record that places them in a tie for third overall in the Big West conference standings.

Three Cal Poly players to keep an eye on as the regular season rolls on would be junior center Devin Stanback, senior forward Emily Anderson and senior guard Dynn Leaupepe, who are all statistical leaders in their own individual Big West categories.

After coming off their most recent 84-71 win at home against the CSUN women’s basketball program, hopes are high for what this Cal Poly women’s basketball squad can truly accomplish.

Made up of mostly returning upperclasswomen, spearheaded by Mimnaugh’s stellar coaching talents and a familiar game scheme aimed at success; this side expects at the very least a deep playoff run as it continues to progress into the 2017-18 campaign.

Cal Poly will host UC Davis this Thursday, Jan. 18 at 2 p.m.

Cal State Fullerton – Sean White

Fullerton’s 1-15 conference record last season was the third time in program history that it finished with just one win in conference play.

CSUF’s 16-16 record in 2006-07 was its last time ending a season with an overall record of .500 or above, and its 8-7 conference finish was its last conference winning record.

Ultimately, such results led to the hiring of Head Coach Jeff Harada. In his first year, he has already helped the Titans eclipse their conference win total of last season.

Sitting at 7-10, 2-2 in the Big West, the Titans are tied for fourth place in the conference. With no Big West Tournament appearances in the last two years, the Titans’ time to rise may be near.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year has been patience. As a coach we are all very competitive by nature and want to win every game we play right away,” Harada said. “Understanding the history and state of our program, my goal is obviously to change that, but I have to remind myself that it’s not going to happen overnight. It truly is a process. Turning those small victories into bigger ones will hopefully take us where we want to be in the future.”

Key factors within this process are junior guards Hannah Thompson and Jade Vega, who both rank in the top 10 of the Big West in scoring with averages of 12 PPG.

Only time will tell if Fullerton can manage to put together a run that will secure a spot within the Big West Tournament.

Until then, we wait for March.

Cal State Northridge – Brandon Victor

Despite losing its first five games of the season, the Cal State Northridge women’s basketball team looks like it could possibly contend for the Big West title.

CSUN (8-9, 1-2) recovered from its tough start by ripping off four straight wins, however, things have slightly declined considering the Matadors’ current two-game losing streak after defeating Cal State Fullerton in their first conference game of the season, 70-68.

Despite the team’s recent slump, the presence of junior center Channon Fluker could possibly catapult the Matadors up the conference standings.

Fluker, who was named the Big West Player of the Year last season, became the second player in Big West history to lead the conference in scoring, rebounding and blocks.

In 17 games played this season, she has recorded eight double-doubles while averaging a conference leading 20.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game.

Fluker even recorded a triple-double during the team’s Dec. 30 game against Seattle, scoring 28 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, all while setting a conference record with 13 blocks en route to a 67-62 victory.

“Our biggest strengths this season are our post play, depth and rebounding,” Head Coach Jason Flower said.

The team will need to improve its late-game execution if it hopes to compete for the conference title this season. Other than a 48-point drubbing by Oregon to start the season, all of CSUN’s losses have been by single digits this season.

CSUN’s next match is against Cal State Fullerton at  7p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18 at the Matadome.

UC Irvine – Andrew Bishop

Second-year Head Coach Tamara Inoue and her players entered the 2017-18 season with one goal in mind: to leave their 2016-17 season behind. Last year, the Anteaters went a paltry 5-26, with only three wins against conference opponents.

“Last year I took over a team that was mainly senior-based,” Inoue said. “They did a good job, we just couldn’t finish games.”

One of the biggest problems Inoue faced going into this season was rebuilding a team that had recently lost a number of key seniors. “I had to replace a lot just because I was losing a lot,” she said. “A lot of the players from last year aren’t here this season, so it’s been a fresh start.”

Irvine’s younger players have shared the bulk of the scoring throughout the majority of the season, with the help of sophomore guards Lauren Saiki (8.7 points per game) and Yazzy Sa’Dullah (7.7 points per game), and freshman forward Jordan Sanders (8.1 points per game).

Irvine has also been supported in recent games by redshirt junior transfer guard Morgan Green, who made her Anteater debut on Jan. 4 against UC Davis. Green was sidelined throughout Irvine’s 2016-17 season, and the non-conference portion of its 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations.

Despite suffering a loss to current conf. leader UC Davis in her first game as an Anteater, Green has lit up the scoreboard in her three appearances, averaging 22.7 points per game.

The Anteaters are coming off of a 77-74 win against UCSB which puts them at 2-1 in conference play. They will hope to add to their win total and continue their comeback season as they face Cal Poly this Thursday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.

Hawaii – Jorge Mercado

The 2017-18 season has been an odd one for the Hawaii women’s basketball team. After going 7-6 in non-conference play, the Rainbow Wahine were poised to make some noise come Big West play. Unfortunately for them, that has yet to be the case.

Hawaii began conference play with three straight losses, with two on the road, but rebounded in their most recent effort in a home win against last place Long Beach State to have a 1-3 mark at this point in the conference season. They are currently in eighth place in the Big West standings.

Offensively, Hawaii has some good talent. They currently possess the second-best shooting percentage in the conference at 40.8 and average 64.3 points per game.

Their leading scorer has been senior guard Sarah Toeaina, who was named to the Preseason All-Conference team by both the media and the coaches. She currently averages 14.1 points per contest.

The only other player on the team averaging double figures is sophomore guard Julissa Tago, who is scoring 10.8 points per contest.

The preseason poll had both coaches and the media expecting the Rainbow Wahine to finish in fourth place; however, with the struggles the team has going for them so far, there is no doubt there needs to be some work done before that prediction could become a reality.

If there is one thing Hawaii has going for them, it is that they are currently 6-4 at home; however, now that Big West play is in full swing, they will need to shore up that defense on the road as well if they want to have some success.

Hawaii’s next match is against UCR on Thursday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m.

UC Davis – Spencer Ault

The UC Davis women’s basketball team entered the Big West Tournament with high hopes last season. UCSB brought those hopes crashing to the ground in the semifinals, defeating the Aggies 73-59 before falling to Long Beach State 56-55 in the finals.

Disappointed as it was, UC Davis managed to bounce back in the WNIT. The Aggies advanced to the Sweet 16 after beating Utah and Colorado State, before falling to Washington State.

Building off that postseason success, the Aggies are 13-3, and kicked off their season with ten straight wins.

One of those wins came over Washington State in an impressive 91-76 victory that displayed how the Aggies have in fact improved from last year’s strong season. UCD’s success has continued in Big West play as well, as the team has gone 3-0 with victories over Irvine, Riverside and Hawaii.

Redshirt junior forward Morgan Bertsch has borne the bulk of the scoring load for UCD with 19.8 points per game. Bertsch was named to the first-team All-Big West last season, and is on pace to earn a repeat of the honor on this go around.

Senior forward Pele Gianotti joined Bertsch on that team last season. Gianotti has been effective this season as well with around ten points per game and a team-high 5.9 rebounds per game.

Senior guard Rachel Nagel is next in line for scoring with 11.6 points per game, and has knocked down 42.6 percent of her three point attempts. That’s not the highest mark on the team, an honor that goes to senior guard Dani Nafekh, but it’s still a marksman-like percentage.

UCD will have its first chance to redeem its semifinal upset loss when it takes on the Gauchos on Thursday, Jan. 18 in the Thunderdome at 7 p.m.

UC Riverside – Kendra Jackson

The UC Riverside Highlanders are 5-13 overall and are currently 2-2 in Big West conference play. With a 3-4 record at home, the team has only managed to reign victorious away from the confines of the UCR Student Recreation Center once this season.

In hindsight, when considering the team’s progress last season, the Highlanders ended as the fourth seed in the Big West tournament. With a 16-15 record overall and 9-7 in conference play, the initial first round matchup for UCR turned out to be the eighth seeded UC Irvine Anteaters.

In terms of moving forward, UCR can still set its sights on a legitimate playoff run if it focuses on improving its record in conference play and dedicating itself to winning games not just at home, but also while on the road.

With a playmaker like senior guard Michelle Curry running the show and redshirt sophomore forward Skyler Lewis collecting the boards, UCR definitely has the talent to right the ship.

Curry averages 15.5 points per game, fourth best mark in the conference while Lewis averages 7.6 rebounds per game, also the fourth best mark in the Big West.

As it stands now, the Highlanders are the sixth seed, but conference play has just begun and there is plenty of time to improve, especially since UCR is not too far behind Cal State Fullerton in the standings. If their conference play begins to excel, they can make a splash in the Big West.

Coming off its most recent win against the CSUF at home in which senior guard Lauren Holt dropped 22 points, UCR is set to ride that momentum when it takes on Hawaii at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18.

A version of this story appeared on p. 7 of the Jan. 18, 2018, edition of the Daily Nexus.

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