After celebrating his 500th win and the squad’s season-high fifth straight win – the eighth victory in the past 11 contests – UCSB women’s basketball head coach Mark French comes back to Earth for a reality check against Central Coast rival Cal Poly this weekend. Last season, the Mustangs (5-11 overall, 1-3 in the Big West) grounded the Gauchos (9-8, 3-1 Big West) with their first upset over UCSB in the Thunderdome in 23 years.

With a win over UC Davis last weekend, the team has finally climbed above .500 for the first time this season. And with the Gauchos posting double-digit win margins in the last four games, the team is on fire at the best time of the season. The goal now is to keep the momentum up as Santa Barbara continues to rip apart the Big West Conference.

After a pair of nonconference games, the Gauchos are back to facing Big West opponents, starting with Cal Poly this Saturday. UCSB travels up the 101 to visit a dismal Mustang team that has been excellent at home. Despite holding just a .313 overall win percentage, Cal Poly is 4-2 at home – a record only bested by first-place UC Riverside (10-7, 4-1 Big West). Nonetheless, the Mustangs have lost eight of their last nine, and are tied for sixth place in the Big West.

At this point in the season, junior center Jenna Green and junior guard Jessica Wilson lead the Gauchos. Green, a perennial shot-maker, is currently ranked second in the Big West with a 17.3 points per game average and seventh with a 43.1 shooting percentage from the field. Wilson has been absolutely stellar, leading the league in assists per game and staying in the top 10 of almost every other conceivable statistic. And yet the biggest story for the Gauchos as of late has been players newer to the program; in the win over Davis (7-10, 2-2 against Big West opponents), the top three scorers were in their first year of Gaucho basketball.

Leading that charge is junior guard Chisa Ononiwu, who was named Golden 1 Athlete of the Week for her performances against UC Davis and Utah Valley State last week. She transferred from Baylor University to Santa Barbara this year, and her output has steadily increased throughout the year. In her award-winning week, she shot 60 percent and averaged 17.5 points per game to help push the Gauchos over .500.

UCSB will certainly be trying to continue the trends that have emerged as of late. During its current win streak, the Gauchos’ shooting, rebound and assist averages have all increased. In that time, they have increased their season-long rebounding average by three per game, and their scoring average by four points per game. In contrast, the Gauchos’ opponents’ averages have dropped by close to the same margin.

Simply put, all of the stats are showing that Santa Barbara is playing better basketball.

Tip-off for Saturday’s game is slated for 4 p.m. at Mott Gym in San Luis Obispo.
– Staff Report