With just four conference games remaining, the UCSB women’s basketball team has tradition on their minds while they head south to face Fullerton tonight.
The 10-time defending champion Gauchos (12-11 overall, 7-3 in the Big West) know that every win is crucial, especially considering that they currently sit in second place in the Big West Conference behind Long Beach (16-8 overall, 9-3 Big West).
“If we didn’t have that streak of consecutive titles on the line, it doesn’t really matter if we finish first or second in league at the end of the year,” Head Coach Mark French said. “But we are very proud of that streak and this team talks about not wanting to be the team that breaks it.”
The Titans (9-15, 6-6 Big West) will be looking to break a couple of streaks tonight in Titan Gym. The first is a two-game skid and the second is a 24-game losing streak to Santa Barbara. Leading the way for Fullerton will be senior center Amber Pruitt, who averages 12.1 points per game. Junior forward Charlee Underwood leads the team with 12.2 points per game, but is questionable for tonight’s contest. Also looking to make an impact is freshman forward Toni Thomas, who lit up Northridge for 23 points in a 78-69 loss last Saturday.
“I expect it will be a tussle,” French said. “This far into the season, every game is a huge game for everyone trying to jockey for the best seed in the tournament.”
Santa Barbara is finally enjoying a full healthy roster for what feels like the first time all season. Sophomore center/forward Jenna Green leads her team in scoring just as she has all season, netting 14.2 points per game. Green is followed by sophomore guard Jessica Wilson, who puts up 10.2 points per contest. Green is also fourth in the league in rebounding with 7.3 per game.
Lately, the seniors have been fighting to continue Santa Barbara’s winning tradition. Senior guard Karena Bonds has been averaging 12.8 points over the last six games and senior forward Autumn Nichols has played through pain in most of her games this season after being hit by a car earlier in the year. Her all-around play was a major factor in last Saturday’s win against first-place Long Beach.
“Our seniors have been stepping up and sensing that they are playing their last couple of games for us,” French said. “It’s something that has happened quite often for us over the years.”
The Gauchos have had difficulty connecting on shots this season, with a team shooting percentage of just 31.9 percent, including 13.7 percent from beyond the arc. No player is shooting above 50 percent on the year and knowing this, French has forced his team to really focus on the dirtier side of the game.
“We need to continue to improve our defense and rebounding because it saved our bacon last game against Long Beach,” French said. “Hopefully we can keep that up and improve on our shooting and really increase our offensive efficiency in these last games.”
The Gauchos and Titans tip off tonight at 7 in Fullerton. Santa Barbara has not lost to Fullerton since 1996 and owns the overall matchup, 31-21.