It’s a bad time to be in the Big West.
Unless of course, you are Santa Barbara.
After ripping off its unparalleled eighth consecutive Big West title coupled with its first ever Sweet 16 appearance, the UCSB women’s basketball team is this year’s team of the year.
This year’s greatest accomplishment for the squad was unquestionably reaching the uncharted waters of the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
“Anytime you achieve a goal as a team, it’s great,” Head Coach Mark French said. “As a team, we set a goal at the beginning of the year to get there.”
Although Santa Barbara lost to eventual national champion and perennial powerhouse University of Connecticut, the Gauchos will still reap the benefits of its surprise run of upsets and national exposure.
“As a program we really gained a lot of prestige,” French said. “The exposure we got from ESPN helps because every 15 and 16 year old player that was watching saw what kind of success we were experiencing.”
En route to its matchup with UConn, UCSB knocked off consecutive higher seeded teams in Houston and Colorado.
The Gauchos ended the year with an impressive 27-7 record, having steam-rolled through Big West competition. French attributed their success to peaking at the right time and to their adverse nature.
“At the beginning of the year we had a lot of expectations, but we lost a conference game to Idaho and got thrashed by Texas Tech,” French said. “We really bounced back well and found ourselves; that, and those girls work their rear ends off.”
French also had the benefit of working with an extremely talented group of basketball players. Senior center Lindsay Taylor was drafted in this year’s WNBA draft by Houston and, in turn, traded to her hometown team, the Phoenix Mercury. Gauchos making their way into the WNBA ranks have become a reoccurring theme in the women’s basketball program considering Taylor is the fourth Gaucho in the past four years to be drafted.
Six UCSB women ballers also found enough success on the court to warrant a selection to the All-Big West team. Taylor and junior forward Kristen Mann highlighted the first All-Big West team. Junior guard Mia Fisher, junior forward Brandy Richardson and senior point guard April McDivitt were honorable mention picks. Freshman forward/center Jenna Green cracked the Big West All-Freshman team.
French remains impressed with Santa Barbara’s ability to win eight consecutive single elimination tournaments.
“I am really proud that we’ve been able to step up in the tournament every year when only one loss can knock us out,” French said. “We see a lot of really talented athletic teams that might not have their best games, but we’re always able to take advantage.”