Riding its first win streak of the season, the UCSB women’s basketball team will look to finish their season on a high-note when they travel to take on UC Davis on Saturday.
With their 61-44 victory over UC Riverside this past week, the Gauchos clinched a spot in the Big West Tournament — something that looked almost impossible at the beginning of conference play. If Santa Barbara can knock off the Aggies, they could finish as high as seventh in the conference, depending on Long Beach’s results during the week.
Getting a positive result against top-dog UC Davis will be no walk in the park, however. After losing the second game of conference play, the Aggies have won 12 straight games in conference play en-route to their 13-1 conference record. Impressively, every single one of those wins have been by double digits — including their 70-44 thrashing of UCSB at the Thunderdome.
UCSB’s recent success has been predicated on their lockdown defense; in both games last week, the Gauchos held their opponents to fewer than 50 points. In the victory over Riverside, Santa Barbara held the Highlanders to a measly 34 percent shooting, also forcing 14 turnovers.
Another catalyst for the resurgent play of UCSB has been the backcourt duo of Coco and Danae Miller — with their best games consistently coinciding with the Gauchos’ success. In the Riverside game, the duo combined for 34 points, 13 assists and only three turnovers, as well as chipping in five steals on the defensive end. Conversely, in the previous meeting between Davis and SB, the duo merely combined for 13 points and three assists in the blowout loss.
As has been the case all season, Davis’ offense starts and ends with senior star Morgan Bertsch, who currently ranks fourth in the entire nation with 23.9 points per game. With smooth footwork in the post and a silky jump shot that opponents are forced to respect, Bertsch has consistently been the top player in the conference all season.
In the first matchup between these sides, Bertsch dropped in 27 points on an efficient 10-18 performance from the floor, also adding in seven rebounds for good measure. Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson tried different matchups against Bertsch throughout the game, but no one could successfully slow her down.
It will be interesting to see how Henrickson handles Bertsch this time around; known for her basketball acumen and ability to make adjustments, Henrickson may opt to double Bertsch and keep the ball out of her hands completely this time around.
While no no one else has the individual impact that Bertsch does, Davis has a wide array of weapons who have proven to be efficient scorers this season. With her deft handles and smart decision-making, point guard Kourtney Eaton has successfully orchestrated the offense all season. Despite averaging only 20 minutes per game, forward Nina Bessolo averages 9.3 points per game, with Bessolo often able to exploit the space cleared by Bertsch on the offensive end.
Given the individual excellence of Bertsch and the weapons around her, it’s a near impossible task to completely stop Davis on defense. If the Gauchos are to have a chance against the Aggies, they will need to improve their efficiency and finishing on the offensive end.
Despite their recent success, Santa Barbara is only averaging 55 points per game in their last four games; for comparison’s sake, the Aggies haven’t scored below 60 points in any conference game this season. In that first matchup against Davis, UCSB shot only 24 percent from the floor, only hitting four of their 23 attempted threes for the game. That number will need to rise dramatically if Santa Barbara wants to pull off the biggest upset of Big West play.
With a spot in the postseason already clinched, there is certainly less pressure on UCSB in what should be a difficult game. Still, a good performance on Saturday would do wonders for the Gauchos’ confidence heading into the conference tournament.
UCSB will take on UC Davis on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Pavillion.
Brandon Victor currently serves as the assistant sports editor. He has covered men’s tennis, men’s soccer and women’s basketball in his two years at the Daily Nexus.