It’s the fifth week of Big West Conference action, and Santa Barbara finds itself somewhere it isn’t used to being – third place. The Gauchos (8-8 overall, 3-2 in the Big West) look to do something about that tonight in Northridge when they match up against the Matadors (5-12 overall, 2-3 Big West).
The Matadors have struggled without their offensive centerpiece, three-time all-Big West senior forward Ofa Tulikihihifo, who is out for the season with a stress fracture in her left tibia.
“I’m sure it’s taking them some time to adjust to her loss,” Head Coach Mark French said. “In past years, they’ve really given us trouble down there because they play really hard and have just gotten after us.”
Northridge runs an energetic pressure defense comparable to the type of energetic defense deployed by Cal Poly that caused Santa Barbara to turn the ball over a season-high 29 times in a rare 82-71 Big West home loss suffered on Saturday.
“Northridge is a little different in that they run a more predictable zone, whereas Cal Poly was more run and jump,” French said. “It’s different but the fundamentals are still the same; we need to handle the ball well, use our court space and communicate with each other no matter what kind of situation we are in.”
Saturday’s loss was just the third conference loss to occur in the Thunderdome since the beginning of the 10-season conference title streak. Despite the initial disappointment, the Gauchos aren’t letting the loss get into their heads.
“We lost, but we’re not going to let that keep us down,” sophomore guard Jessica Wilson said. “I think everybody is ready to play, you know. We lost, we’re down, but we’re not going to let that affect us on the court.”
With Tulikihihifo gone, the Matadors have put their trust in junior guard/forward LaJoyce King to lead the team in the scoring column. Averaging 10.7 points per game, the task of guarding King falls on Wilson, who led all players on Saturday with 22 points.
“I’m going to play defense,” Wilson said. “I’m going to have my team’s help so it’s not like it’s just me out there.”
Santa Barbara is led by sophomore forward/center Jenna Green, who averages 14.9 points per game. Her ability to produce offensively and be a presence defensively has been a crucial factor to the limited success the Gauchos have enjoyed so far.
Santa Barbara has won the last 14 contests against Northridge, including a semifinal matchup in last year’s Big West Conference Tournament. The game takes place at 7 p.m. and marks the beginning of a five-game road trip that will have the Gauchos out of the Thunderdome until a Feb. 16 game against Irvine.