Its been well documented on this sports page over the past few months how promising the men’s basketball team’s nonconference start was. Us sports editors were salivating at the thought of a bye into the semifinals of the Big West Tournament and the possibility of senior guard Alex Harris becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer and Big West Player of the Year. While the recent TV loss in front of more than 3,000 fans may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the players and fans alike – especially with the squad now a modest 2-3 in its last five home contests – there is another team that is meeting, and perhaps even exceeding, expectations in the Thunderdome.
In case you’ve been asleep for the past decade, the Gaucho women’s basketball team has been the king of the Big West castle for a long, long time. UC Riverside has stepped up to steal UCSB’s thunder in the Big West Tournament each of the past two seasons, extending the Gauchos’ NCAA Tournament drought to 2004-05, but this year’s Santa Barbara squad seems poised to erase the pain from the two last minute losses to the Highlanders.
Imagine losing perhaps the best player in the conference in senior center Jenna Green for the season, only to reel off 11 straight victories – including the first ten in Big West play – and open a three game lead on the field in the conference standings. That is precisely the feat the women’s squad has accomplished, but no one has been around to notice – especially not the students.
Heading into the Jan. 31 contest with rival UCR, I was full of anticipation, thanks to the NCAA/Big West Pack the House night in an attempt to put some butts in the seats for the biggest home game of the year. That anticipation was smacked off my face minutes into the game in the more or less empty and quite thunderless Thunderdome, as an inflated crowd of just under 1,500 showed up. This is perhaps the best Gaucho women’s basketball team most students at this school have seen, fifth-year seniors excluded, giving the NCAA Tournament squad of 2004-05 a run for its money. I’m having a hard time believing why the crowd disparity between the men’s and women’s games is so enormous.
If you compared the number of students at these games, you’ll see that we make up more than half the crowd for any men’s game during school, while at our best, the students are maybe 30 percent of the showing for the women’s contests. I understand hoping for equal showing at the events is a little far-fetched, but basketball fans missing out on the women’s games are missing out on some truly amazing things happening on the court.
Senior guard Jessica Wilson seems to have been possessed after Green went down, demonstrating why she is the Big West’s Ms. Versatility, playing with more heart and energy than any player in the league. Junior forward Kat Suderman would be a shoe-in for Comeback Player of the Year if there were such an award, and that just makes fans wonder what could be if Suderman were paired along side a healthy Green, with Wilson always ready to jump out on the break.
For all you fans who have seen the men’s basketball squad come up short time and time again on its home floor, remember that the women’s team is undefeated in the Big West and playing the best basketball around. They deserve some love too.