In a season dominated by impressive offensive performances by her teammates, junior guard Karena Bonds is helping bring some balance to the Gaucho equation with solid defensive play and a gleeful demeanor both on and off the court.

The 15-game starter owns the team’s highest assist-to-turnover ratio and is shooting 61 percent from three point range, but her hustle on the defensive end has proven invaluable to a team choc full of offensive talent.

“Karena is our best defender. We almost always put her on the other team’s best perimeter defender,” Head Coach Mark French said. “Emotionally, she is starting to give us a big lift, too. She is very charismatic and energetic, and her play benefits us in terms of picking our spirits up and getting us to enjoy the game a little bit.”

The pressures of Division 1 sports don’t seem to phase Bonds, who has managed to keep a lighthearted approach in a season that has had its shares of ups and downs. Now, with Santa Barbara (9-7 overall, 6-1 Big West) back in first in the Big West tied with Long Beach State and two games above .500 overall, Bonds has even more of a reason to keep on smiling.

“Bonds approaches much of life from a little bit of a different perspective, and that perspective usually includes trying to have a reasonably good time at what she’s doing and keeping it from being drudgery for her. She helps spread that,” French said. “In the second half of the season, things can get a little bit old if you’re not careful about it – so I appreciate her spirit and her leadership in an emotional way, as well.”

Tonight, Karena will drape herself in the #32 jersey and step into the Thunderdome to face Northridge (8-7 overall, 4-3 Big West).

Northridge turned heads by dismantling the Gaucho’s nemesis Idaho (the only Big West opponent to beat UCSB in the past two years) 64-47 in Riverside on Jan. 20, proving them to be a very dangerous, if not the dominant, presence in the Big West this season.

In that impressive performance, the Highlanders rode the standout performance of freshman center Kemie Nkele, who missed a triple-double by one blocked shot (22 points, 12 rebounds, 9 blocked shots). Even scarier for the Gauchos, Nkele did all of this while guarding last season’s Big West Player of the Year Emily Faurholt.

“Riverside has improved a lot since last year. I think they have a lot of strength and that they’ll be a good match-up for us [because] they beat Idaho,” senior forward Kate Bauman said. “I think it will be a real confidence booster for us if we go out there and do what we need to do to win the game.”

Tonight’s game will tip off at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.