The UCSB women’s basketball team will dust off its Adidas high tops and hit the hardwood Saturday for the first game of the 2006-2007 season – a home exhibition against Cal Poly Pomona. The Gauchos (who went 16-14 overall, 10-4 in the Big West last season) finished with their 11th consecutive Big West regular season title during the 2005-2006 season and are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after losing the Big West Tournament to UC Riverside in the final rounds.
The recent departure of senior guard Erin O’Bryan and sophomore guard Shantel Thomas leaves the Gauchos with seven returning letter winners and six newcomers – four of which are currently eligible. The exhibition against Division II Pomona will give the squad, which was picked to finish first in the Big West in a preseason poll, an opportunity to work out some kinks before beginning its competitive preseason schedule.
“We hope to gain experience. Our team is a little on the young side so we’re looking to get the first-game jitters over and see how our offensive and defensive systems look against a team that’s not us,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “It’s another way to see how we’re progressing. It will be good to see the players in a game-like situation; there are always surprises.”
Anchoring the team for the Gauchos will be junior forward Jenna Green and junior guard Jessica Wilson. Green, who was nominated by the coaches and media to the preseason Big West All-Conference Team for the second consecutive year, led UCSB in points last season with 419 and also grabbed a team-high 214 boards. Wilson was right behind Green last year with 279 points and led Santa Barbara with 66 steals.
“Both [Green] and [Wilson] are all-league performers and should be the premier players on the West Coast at their positions – [Green] in the post and [Wilson] as a wing,” French said. “What we need from them is consistency, great play and great leadership. We need them to be people we can count on do their thing every game.”
Sophomore guard Whitney Warren, though not a starter last year, played in 28 of UCSB’s games and will start, as will sophomore guard LaShay Fears, who developed into a solid starting player for last season’s squad.
The exhibition will give the fresh young talent their first look at Division I basketball. Freshman forward Jordan Franey, a 2005-2006 San Diego Union-Tribune Player of the Year and San Diego Female Athlete of the Year winner, rounds out tomorrow’s starting lineup and is expected to be a large contributor.
“[The positions] remains to be seen. Everyone will get an opportunity, a chance to play,” French said. “We work real hard at this point in the season to not lock people into starting roles. [Freshman guard Ariana] Gnekow is impressive in practice and will undoubtedly play a lot.”
Although Pomona is a Division II school, it has a storied history of postseason action and will provide a competitive team for the Gauchos to try out their new lineup. The Broncos have won four Division II Championship crowns, last appearing in the Big Dance during the 2005 season. There will be a little bit of sibling rivalry with Gnekow and her twin sister Erin, a freshman who is redshirting this year for Pomona.
Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday at the Thunderdome.