It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. They were supposed to be invincible in the Big West Tournament, but the UCSB women’s basketball team got hit by kryptonite that donned Highlanders jerseys.
I was supposed to write a column about the entire season, something to wrap it all up. But I can’t stop thinking about that final game, that final shot. Sophomore guard Jessica “J-Rock” Wilson pushed the ball up court and I knew everything would be OK. She was quick and had been scoring at will all day long. Then it bounced off the rim with no time left. I sat in shock and confusion, listening to the UC Riverside student radio team sitting next to me shouting with glee.
All season long they talked about not wanting to be the team to end the streak. They had made it to the NCAA Tournament nine years in a row and planned on making it 10. For the first time in recent memory, they didn’t coast through the Big West season; they fought their way through it. They worked and worked to get from third place to their share of first. In a program that knows only dominance, this team only knew struggle. So when they were clawing their way toward victory against UC Riverside, I wasn’t worried. But something just wasn’t right.
Senior guard and team co-captain Karena Bonds wasn’t on the floor. She watched from the bench nursing an ankle injury that prevented her from playing in the final Big West game of her career. While her cousin Barry was blasting home runs in Arizona, Karena Bonds was watching a legacy she helped build come under fire from the Highlanders.
Perhaps the women were as confused as I was, perhaps they didn’t really realize what just happened, but they seemed to take it pretty well. Despite the pressure they were under, there were no Adam Morrison moments. No one flopped themselves on center court in an outburst of emotion. But there was a strange look on everyone’s faces. It was clear that they were sad, but something else was stirring beneath their somber visages.
Revenge, redemption, a return to the Promised Land. The Gauchos were thinking of next season. The post-game press conference brought their thoughts out for those interested to hear. Head Coach Mark French stated plainly that he looked forward to starting a new streak next year. There were no pity parties or blaming, no one threw their teammates under the bus. They were classy, just like they were all season, and with only Bonds and fellow senior and co-captain, forward Autumn Nichols graduating, Santa Barbara has the tools they need to reclaim their former prestige.
They were young, but hints of their potential were shown throughout the season. Sophomore guard Ana Onaindia proved to have sniper-like range. Sophomore forward/center Jenna Green turned out to be a beast in the low post on both ends of the floor. Wilson has the ability to take over a game and fill up the nylon faster than anyone not named Kobe Bryant. Freshman guard LaShay Fears went head to head with some of the top point guards in the nation and never even flinched. They were young, but next year we’ll call them experienced. For the first time in 10 years, these Gauchos will have something to prove. I don’t envy the rest of the Big West Conference next season.
Daily Nexus staff writer Sean Lewis might have his own Adam Morrison moment after the Lake-show gets burned by the Suns in the first round.