After wrapping up its ninth straight regular-season conference title, the UCSB women’s basketball team will finish the conference season how it started.
Santa Barbara hosted UC Irvine and Long Beach State to begin the conference season in early January and will now travel down south to play the Anteaters and 49ers. The road trip begins tonight in the Bren Event Center at 7 in Irvine.
“We want to be rock solid going into the end of the season with our defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “I think we are doing very solid defensively, our rebounding is starting to come around and I’m confident that we’ll continue to cut our turnovers down as we progress.”
On Jan. 25, senior forward Lisa Willett scored a career-high 20 points as the Gauchos cruised to a 70-44 win over the Anteaters during their second conference game of the season. UCSB leads the all-time series 39-21, but Irvine is the only team to beat Santa Barbara twice during its recent run of Big West regular season titles. The Anteaters defeated UCSB during the 1996-97 and 2000-01 seasons. UCI defeated Santa Barbara 64-57 on Valentine’s Day in the Thunderdome in 2001.
Irvine is led in scoring by senior guard Kristen Green, who is averaging 13 points per game. A fellow senior, forward Christina Callaway is second on the team averaging 12.3 points per game. Callaway tops the team in rebounding with 7.7 per game. The Anteaters have struggled with shooting from the field this season, connecting on only 37.7 percent of their shots compared to their opponents’ combined average of 41.2 percent.
Irvine struggled to start the conference season losing its first five contests. The Anteaters have not done much better since then and have lost three of their last five games. They lost a critical game last weekend to Utah State, placing them a half game ahead of the Aggies for eighth place in the conference.
The Anteaters are feeling a sense of urgency and will likely need a win in one of their next two games to get into the Big West Tournament. Irvine is one of four teams battling for the last two spots in the conference tournament. While the UCI is only a half game up on Utah State, the Anteaters are also only a game ahead of Cal State Northridge. However, the Anteaters could steal seventh place away from Riverside, who only holds a one game lead over the Anteaters.
Santa Barbara ends the regular season this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against Long Beach State.