Currently riding an eight game Big West winning streak, the UCSB women’s basketball team goes for its best conference start since the 2001-2002 season tonight on the road against Cal State Fullerton.
The Gauchos (13-6 overall, 8-0 in the Big West) won their ninth consecutive game and remained undefeated in conference play when they defeated defending conference champion Riverside (8-11, 6-2 Big West) 73-61 last Thursday. Tonight Santa Barbara looks to continue its scorching play when it faces the Titans (7-13, 5-3 Big West) for the second time this season.
“[Conference] teams are improving so we need to be cautious about being overconfident,” Head Coach Mark French said. “We have to remember why we’re 8-0 and what got us there.”
Last Thursday’s game against the Highlanders was a rematch of last season’s Big West Championship game and arguably the toughest test the Gauchos have faced thus far. Playing in front of the home crowd, Santa Barbara went on an 8-0 run to close out the first half then used a strong second half in which they outscored the Highlanders 41-33 to come away with a 73-61 victory.
“Our effort has gotten a lot better [as the season has progressed],” French said. “We’ve been more consistent in practice as well as in all 40 minutes of games.”
Santa Barbara was led in the game by senior guard Jessica Wilson, who has been the cornerstone of the Gauchos current win-streak, averaging 14.4 points per game in conference play. Wilson recorded 19 points and 12 rebounds against the Highlanders, marking her third double-double in UCSB’s last five games. It was also a milestone evening for Wilson, as she became the 22nd player in Gaucho history to score 1,000 career points.
“[Wilson] has really stepped up her effort and consistency,” French said. “Her focus and her intensity seem to energize the rest of the team.”
Tonight UCSB begins the second half of conference play. Santa Barbara got all it could handle the last time the two teams faced off on Jan. 12 as the Titans took the Gauchos to overtime but could not pull out the victory, losing 58-59. The outcome was close, but Fullerton dominated the majority of the game, maintaining the lead for the entirety of the contest until there was 1:35 remaining in the second half. A strong performance by Wilson in the overtime period propelled Santa Barbara to victory, but the Titans proved to be a formidable opponent.
Following the loss to Santa Barbara, Fullerton dropped its third straight game against Davis, but since then the Titans have won five straight and are fifth in the conference standings with a respectable 5-3 record. Fullerton is led by junior forward Toni Thomas, the Big West’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per game. Thomas made her presence felt when the two teams played in January, scoring 24 points on 8-13 shooting and grabbing 16 rebounds.
“[Fullerton] has been playing very, very well,” French said. “They’re shooting the ball well and playing with a lot of confidence- they’re very dangerous.”