The UCSB women’s basketball team steps out of conference for its next two games, starting today with a showdown against Pac-10 member Arizona. The Gauchos will then head north to Corvalis, Oregon to take on Oregon State.

Santa Barbara (6-5 overall, 2-0 in Big West play) is coming off a pair of impressive victories, both of them in Big West play. UCSB opened conference play with a 73-55 victory over Idaho and followed that up with a 105-60 thrashing of Northridge at the Thunderdome. The back-to-back wins were the Gauchos’ first of the season.

In the victory over the Matadors, senior forward Kayte Christensen turned in perhaps the most impressive performance of her career, scoring a career-high 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. However, the Gauchos know that it will take more than Christensen to defeat a feisty Wildcats squad.

“I don’t think either Oregon State or Arizona are unbeatable teams,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “They’re both very good teams. Teams that have four Pac-10 games under their belts right now. But it’ll be interesting. I think our confidence levels are pretty good right now after what happened against Idaho and Northridge. But it’s just another checkpoint for us.”

Adding a personal element to the Arizona game is the fact that for all the success French has had throughout his coaching career and at UCSB, French has never defeated Arizona Head Coach Joan Bonvicini. And although French has not expressed an overt desire to earn a personal victory, his players know he would like nothing more than to top Arizona and Bonvicini on their home court.

“I know that Coach French and the coach for Arizona have a definite past,” Christensen said. “It’s pretty well known that they don’t get along very well. It’s a definite rivalry. We just have to expect they’re going to play incredibly hard against us. But this is a whole different team than they’ve ever played against.”

After the grudge fest at Arizona, the Gauchos will face Oregon State in Corvalis only two days later. OSU defeated UA earlier this season. UCSB knows that the game against the Beavers will be crucial to its RPI rating, as well as to gain momentum entering the thick of Big West play.

“We have a definite emphasis, not only on these two games, but for the rest of the season,” Christensen said. “But these two games are especially important to us. And Arizona, I don’t think we’ve beaten them since I’ve been here, and [the losses] have always been close and they’ve always been upsetting. And Oregon State just beat Arizona, so it’s going to be challenging. But we need the wins.”