With its best start to the conference season since 2001, the UCSB women’s basketball team will get a break from terrorizing the Big West tonight to finish its nonconference season.
Tonight the Gauchos (15-6 overall) take on Cal State Bakersfield in their final tune-up match before the final run towards the Big West Tournament. This is the Roadrunners’ (9-12) first year at full Division 1 status, and their record shows that they have made the transition fairly successfully. Bakersfield has matched up with the Big West six times this season, coming away with wins against fourth-place Cal Poly and a dismal Cal State Northridge squad, who has yet to win a Big West match. Most recently, the Roadrunners narrowly missed upsetting UC Riverside on Saturday, with the 69-62 final score not showing how close the game actually was. In any case, CSUB will have no problem bringing a game to the Thunderdome.
The bad news for the upstarts is they have to face a Gaucho team that has been absolutely on fire for the past two months. During its current 11-game win streak, including every Big West appearance this year, Santa Barbara has proven to be the class of the league. With the first-place offense and third-place defense, the Gauchos have a ridiculous 12.5-point positive scoring margin. UCSB has the best shooting team in the league: They make 45.2 percent of their shots. On the other side of the court, Santa Barbara holds opponents to under 41.6 percent field goal shooting and under 32.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Head Coach Mark French, with 12 Big West titles on his resume, has always stressed defensive effort and rebounding. This year, his team has responded brilliantly. The Gauchos are in the top three of every defensive statistical category, and they are nabbing almost 10 steals per game. Led by senior guard Jessica Wilson and junior center Kat Suderman, Santa Barbara has dominated the glass. The team grabs 40 boards a game, and with a 6.6 rebounds-per-game advantage over their opponents, their margin doubles the next closest competitor.
Individually, the Gauchos are just as dominant. Wilson has proved to be solid in every aspect of the game, and incredibly, she is in the top 10 for every scoring, shooting and rebounding statistic, as well as minutes played. Suderman is third in the Big West with 14.8 ppg off 53.3 percent shooting. Junior guard Lauren Pedersen has been excellent running the point, leading the Big West with 4.7 assists per game. Junior guard Sha’Rae Gibbons has had a breakout year, and she follows just behind Pedersen, averaging 3.7 assists.
With the Gauchos’ hot pace and Bakersfield’s gritty team, tonight’s match-up should prove to be exciting. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.