It won’t be surprising if Saint Mary’s McKeon Pavilion seems more like a Thunderdome crowd than a Moraga, Calif., home base.

The UCSB women’s basketball team will open its season at Saint Mary’s to play in a 2 p.m. game against the Gaels on Sunday and will bring with it a substantial Gaucho contingency. Senior guard Mia Fisher’s hometown of Pleasanton is nearby, and Head Coach Mark French’s son is a senior at Saint Mary’s.

“Sure, we prefer to open at home, but for us to have a good season, we have to perform on the road,” French said. “We’ll have a big fan base from the Fisher household. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a bigger fan base than Saint Mary’s.”

Santa Barbara will not have seen any tape of Saint Mary’s going into Sunday’s game due to the fact that the Gauchos will face Arizona, the only team that has played the Gaels thus far, later in nonconference play. UCSB will receive a verbal scouting report from fellow Big West team Riverside, which faces Saint Mary’s tonight.

“We’re going on what we know from last year,” French said. “They’re kind of an unknown team.”

The Gaels return all five starters from their 2003-04 team and, according to French, have a similar personnel.

“They’re a solid team; they’re well-balanced,” French said. “They’ve got a lot of kids that have a lot of confidence and they appear to have some pretty good perimeter shooters.”

Senior forward Triola Jackson will be Santa Barbara’s main concern in the frontcourt and recorded 21 points in the Gaels’ 87-72 loss to #22 Arizona.

“Traditionally, they’re a very tough player-to-player defensive team,” French said.

After shooting 0-19 from the arch in its final exhibition game against club team Love and Basketball, UCSB will continue to take shots from three-point range and needs to overcome the Gael’s man-to-man defense.

“Percentage-wise there’s only one way to go, and that’s up,” French said. “As long as they’re taking good shots, we’ll be fine.”

French will start Fisher and senior guard Karena Bonds, freshman center Jenna Green and senior forwards Brandy Richardson and Kristen Mann. Freshman guard Ana Onaindia will return from injury and could see her first minutes as a Gaucho. Freshman forward Kat Suderman is also expected to see limited minutes.