The 2002 UCSB women’s basketball team had about as successful a season as Head Coach Mark French could have hoped.

In Big West play, Santa Barbara mounted a 16-0 record and produced a three-month stretch where Gaucho fans witnessed 22 consecutive wins. UCSB amassed a stunning 26-6 record overall, highlighted by a first-round upset of perennial hardwood powerhouse Louisiana Tech in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Senior Forward Kayte Christensen earned 2002 Big West Player of the Year and is currently competing for a spot on the Phoenix Mercury’s roster.

With so many accomplishments and accolades in 2002, why do the Gauchos think they can be even more successful in 2003?

After a second-round loss in the NCAA Tourney, the Gauchos want to turn last year’s bittersweet setback to Texas into a flavorful Sweet 16 trip in 2003.

“We were very close against Texas, and we thought we were going to the Sweet 16,” junior guard Jess Hansen said. “I definitely think we have the talent to do it next year.”

While just two seniors graduate from this year’s team, Christensen is one departing player that French would like in the post for another season. Santa Barbara will need to replace a team-leading 14.5 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game gap if the Gauchos hope to dance to a certain March tune.

“We are all very confident even though Kayte will be gone,” said sophomore center Lindsay Taylor, the Big West Tourney MVP. “She left a lot of things behind for us to learn from.”

Santa Barbara returns four starters and seven athletic freshmen from this past year’s squad. Junior guards Debby Caine and Hansen will lead the Gauchos’ backcourt in the fall. Caine shot 42 percent from three-point range last year, while Hansen averaged 9.8 points per game and led the Gauchos in assists. Both return with two years of starting experience under their belts and know the pressure to perform will be up to them.

“You have a lot of responsibility, playing at the guard position,” Hansen said. “I just want to be an encouraging leader for my team and continue to build trust with my teammates.”

Taylor also returns in the fall and will fill the void left by the departing Christensen. The 6’8″ center from Chandler, Arizona dominated the post last year for Santa Barbara, tallying 12.8 points and 7 boards per contest and leading the team with 69 blocks. Taylor knows that this will be her year to shine.

“This year I was looking for Kayte a lot, maybe next year I’ll have a bigger impact in the post,” Taylor said. “We saw how close we got this year, so we expect a lot more out of ourselves next year with so many people returning.”

If the University of Michigan men’s basketball team could once boast about its “Fab Five,” then “Scintillating Seven” may be appropriate for illustrating the seven freshmen that return for UCSB in 2003.

Swingman Kristen Mann started 20 games last season andaveraged12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 32 percent from behind the arc. Guard Mia Fisher averaged 26 minutes per game, shooting 53 percent from the field to pour in 10.1 points per contest. Forward Brandy Richardson posted 4 rebounds per game and was third on the team in blocked shots. Kate Bauman, a 6’6″ forward transferring from Iowa State, will certainly help the Gauchos in the future after she will be forced to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer rules.

“I’m excited to watch the freshmen keep on getting better,” sophomore guard Lisa Willett said. “They are amazing athletes and have great potential here at UCSB.”