In its current homestand, the #21 UCSB women’s basketball team must first rake in a pair of wins before trying to take the pot with the illustrious three of a kind.

Approximately 43 hours after easily downing Cal State Northridge, the Gauchos (8-2 overall; 2-0 in the Big West) will try their luck against USC. UCSB and the Trojans (6-8) go to battle tonight at 7 in the Thunderdome in the second of three home games scheduled by the Gauchos in five days. In its final nonconference game at home this season, Santa Barbara hopes to string together its 16th straight win at home.

The Gauchos are 9-11 all-time against the Trojans, with their last meeting going USC’s way. The women of Troy handed UCSB a 60-56 loss in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, 2000. Junior guard Lisa Willett remembers the game well.

“During my freshman year, we were all very excited about playing USC and disappointed we didn’t win,” Willett said. “This year will be different. They are one of the best teams in the Pac-10 so we will have to be strong at all times.”

In addition to moving up one spot in this week’s Associated Press poll, the Gauchos also jumped two spots in the latest USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll, granting the team the #21 spot in both polls. More important probably is the fact that UCSB held down the #7 position in the latest Summerville/WBCA Ratings Percentage Index, which factors in a team’s winning percentage, strength of schedule and opponents’ strength of schedule.

The Trojans enter tonight’s game feeling the need for upsets. After its date with the Gauchos, USC returns to Los Angeles to take on conference-leading and heated rival UCLA on Sunday at Pauley Pavilion.

Junior guard Rometra Craig, a first-year player for the Trojans after transferring from Duke, has dominated the scoring trends for her squad. Craig is averaging 16.7 points per game and recently poured in a career-high 23 last week in a two-point overtime loss against Washington.

Junior center and2003 All-American candidate Ebony Hoffman is second on the team in scoring and rebounding and has posted 22 career double-doubles.

Santa Barbara will look to get one of its hottest defensive players involved more offensively against the Trojans. Sophomore forward Brandy Richardson has been a rebounding machine lately but has been uncomfortable taking shots on the offensive side of the ball. Richardson is leading the team in rebounds but has scored double-digits only twice this year. The 2003 All-Big West candidate took just two shots against Northridge on Tuesday night and finished the game with just two points.

“[Richardson] is rebounding the ball very well right now and we will need her to continue to do that,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “But we will also need her to step it up offensively against USC.”

KCSB 91.9 FM will air tonight’s game with a live broadcast, starting at 6:40. Also, Cox Community cable channel 8 will televise the contest also.