By my count, we’re rarely wrong here at the Nexus sports page. Call me cocky, or call me forgetful, but it seems like most of the picks that fellow sports editor Chris Hoffman and myself have made this year have been pretty spot-on. However, I’m man enough to admit when I do make a mistake, and I’ve got to say we made a pretty colossal one when we did the Big West Conference predictions in early January. At the time, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams were streaking – performance-wise, not nudity-wise, of course – but instead of looking like total homers, we decided to pick only one of the Gaucho squads as our favorites to win the Big West. Maybe it’s because we’re guys, or maybe it’s because we desperately wanted to believe that the men’s squad could finally reach expectations and go dancing in March, but we chose the men to win the Big West and picked the women to finish a close second on their side. Our bad.

As the women have yet to lose a conference game, we were clearly wrong with our picks. The Gauchos are dominating conference play so far, and a large part of the reason is the creative coaching of Head Coach Mark French, the man who has built UCSB into one of the premier programs on the West Coast. Despite past successes, you could legitimately make the argument that the current campaign is the mustached man’s best coaching job yet. The Gauchos haven’t skipped a beat since the season-ending injury to star center Jenna Green, and the credit for this must go to French and his staff for recruiting impact players like freshman Ashlee Brown and developing older players like junior Kat Suderman. French is a master of pushing the right buttons, and he has definitely done just that on several occasions this year. Despite the fact that the Gauchos were undefeated in conference play after a few games, French wasn’t happy with the team’s effort and the way they were competing, so he took the drastic step of locking the Gauchos out of their own locker rooms – forcing the girls to find other places to change before practice and do their own laundry afterwards. While this seems like a drastic move to make – especially with the team winning at the time – French sent a message to his players that they had to compete harder, and they definitely have in the last few weeks. The players might have grumbled about it at the time, but any of them will tell you that the team is now closer and more motivated than it’s been all season.

Closing off the locker rooms wasn’t the only motivational ploy that the head coach has pulled from his bag of tricks this season. After conditioning, he once sent them out to practice on the blacktop to bring back memories of their early days of playing the game, and before a huge home matchup with defending conference champion UC Riverside a few weeks ago, French busted out an alternate set of gold jerseys to up his teams’ intensity a notch. The Gauchos haven’t worn gold since 2000, and French admits that he usually only allows his best defensive squads to don the gold. The ploy worked, as UCSB forced 18 turnovers en route to a victory that gave the Gauchos a commanding lead in the Big West.

While French keeps finding new ways to keep his team on its toes, the deep roster -12 different Gauchos have started a game this season – continues to dominate the conference. At 10-0 in league play, UCSB looks poised to make its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2005. I’d love to do what Chris did on Tuesday and encourage all of you to head out to the Thunderdome in the next few weeks to watch the girls drive for perfection but, sadly, I know it probably won’t do any good. With the exceptions of the campus media and the players’ friends, students hardly ever attend the women’s games. But whether you attend or not, just make sure that you take note of the success that the women’s basketball team is achieving, and the novel way that they’re going about doing it. With six Big West games left, the Gauchos have a chance to accomplish the rarest of sports feats: perfection. It’s a tough task to achieve – just ask the New England Patriots – but French and the current group of Gauchos look like they just might have what it takes to run the table, and accomplish another rare feat: proving the Nexus sports page wrong.