This one could get ugly pretty fast, but if Super Bowl XXXVI proved anything, it’s that in sports you never know.

The UCSB women’s basketball team hosts Cal State Fullerton tonight in a game that features teams on the opposite end of the Big West spectrum. The Gauchos (13-5 overall, 7-0 in Big West play) are riding a nine-game winning streak and sit in their customary spot atop the Big West standings. The Titans, on the other hand, have dropped three straight, and 12 out of their last 13 games, putting them in a tie for last place with Cal State Northridge.

Add to that the fact that Santa Barbara dismantled CSUF in their three meetings last year, including a 79-24 whipping at the Thunderdome, and any prospects of a Titan victory seem dim. Such a mismatch often leaves the favorite lacking in enthusiasm and focus, as the Rams learned all too well on Sunday. But should UCSB be lacking in motivation, all it needs to do is look back to last season, according to UCSB Head Coach Mark French.

“We’re asking the team to reflect back to last year when we didn’t respect some of our Big West opponents and had poor results,” French said, referring to shocking back-to-back conference losses suffered against Cal Poly and Irvine. “We’re telling them to go out and practice and play like we’re going to play Duke on national television.

“If we do that it will be fun.”

The Gauchos are coming off of their best passing performance in recent memory, dishing out 29 assists in a victory over Idaho. The 29 assists, which fell just one short of the school record, is perhaps a sign of the cohesion that has developed on this freshmen-laden squad.

“Everybody knows each other and are more confident,” French said. “We’re getting the sense of ‘we’re good’ and that making that extra pass can get an even better shot. It’s just better basketball, more trust and placing more focus on our post players.”

One of those post players, sophomore center Lindsay Taylor, was the main benefactor of the Gauchos’ selflessness, repeatedly receiving the ball in excellent position to score against the Vandals. Taylor finished the game with 21 points on a career-best 10-11 shooting.

“I usually don’t shoot that much,” Taylor said of her outstanding night. “But the guards were looking for me and I was finishing my shots, which gave the guards more confidence to get me the ball.”

But while UCSB may be improving in dishing the ball out, reeling the ball in is another story. The Gauchos continue to struggle with turnovers and perhaps more importantly, rebounding. Though Santa Barbara leads the Big West in rebounding margin, many of those rebounds are a result of the Gauchos’ athleticism, not boxing out – something UCSB will need if it hopes to make its mark in the NCAA Tournament this season.

“It’s an ongoing struggle for us,” French said of rebounding. “It’s hard to box out when you can get the rebounds anyway. But if everybody could play their best without coaches, you wouldn’t need them anymore. It’s our job to work on that. My expectations far exceed out-rebounding Fullerton by 10.”