After clinching the Big West regular season title over the weekend, the UCSB women’s basketball team will have two more games to tune up for its postseason run, starting with a clash against Northridge tonight at the Thunderdome.
The Gauchos (19-7 overall, 13-1 in the Big West) earned their 12th conference title in the last 13 seasons when they defeated rival Riverside (13-13, 10-4 Big West) in an emotionally charged game that saw 44 fouls and three ejections. UCSB has just two more home games on its schedule before it heads to the Big West Tournament in Anaheim next week, beginning tonight with a game against the Matadors (1-24, 0-14 Big West), which tips off at 7 p.m.
“It felt very good [to clinch the Big West title],” Head Coach Mark French said. “It was a very satisfying and emotional game for several reasons.”
Saturday night’s road victory over the Highlanders was one of the most dramatic wins for the Gauchos all season. Led by freshman forward Ashlee Brown’s 22 points and five rebounds, Santa Barbara used a strong second half to overcome a halftime deficit and escape with a 70-62 victory. Coupled with UC Davis’ 72-71 loss to Pacific, UCSB usurped the Big West regular season title from Riverside and earned the number one seed in the upcoming conference tournament. Interestingly enough, the Highlanders clinched the conference title last season with a road win over the Gauchos at the Thunderdome, making Saturday’s victory an episode of sweet revenge.
“It was probably extra fun for us to clinch down there at Riverside considering the recent history between our two programs,” French said. “Obviously it was a confidence-inspiring win.”
Tensions escalated in the second half when a small fight broke out between the two teams on a play for a loose ball. As a result, Riverside’s junior guard Seyram Gbewonyo and UCSB senior guard Jessica Wilson and junior forward Kat Suderman were ejected from the contest. Because of NCAA rules, Wilson and Suderman, the top two scorers for the Gauchos, will be suspended for tonight’s contest against Northridge.
While UCSB has been at the upper echelon of the Big West all season long with just one conference loss, Northridge has found itself on the opposite end of the spectrum, sitting at the bottom of the standings with no Big West wins to its credit. Santa Barbara earned a dominant 88-44 road win over the Matadors early in January, which still remains its largest margin of victory of the season. Though they are facing a team with a lowly record and have nothing tangible to play for, tonight’s game will be important for the Gauchos to maintain their quality standard of play that has been their identity throughout the conference season.
“[Wilson and Suderman] will get a rest, and we’ll try to rest some of our other players,” French said. “But at the same time we also want to continue the momentum and continue to have confidence in the way we’re playing.”