Last year’s Big West Champion Gauchos lost only one game in conference. It was to UC Davis, in the Thunderdome. Thursday, undefeated-in-conference UCSB will be looking to stop history from repeating itself.
Santa Barbara (10-6, 5-0 Big West) will take on the Aggies in a home game tonight at 7 p.m. Given, the Aggies received their ‘just desserts’ in the Big West Tournament final last year, but this game should still have plenty of drama. For one, both teams have conference title hopes.
UC Davis (7-9, 3-2 Big West) can hardly afford to drop another game in the early conference season, lest it fall a full three games behind the Big West lead. The Aggies are currently firmly entrenched in the middle of the pack, with losses to UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton weighing them down. A win tonight would put Davis right back in the title hunt, and combined with the possibility of taking down Santa Barbara, UCD has more than enough incentive to put on quite a fight.
Then again, beating these Gauchos is easier said than done right now. First year Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb has turned her squad around from early-season struggles and is currently riding high on a seven game winning streak. Every foe has taken its best shot, and Cal Poly even shot out to a 16 point lead last week, but Santa Barbara just refuses to go down. The Gauchos roared back against the Mustangs to win by 10, leaving the Poly faithful flabbergasted.
UCSB’s defense has been leading the way, holding opponents to absurdly low numbers. The Gauchos have kept nine opponents this year under the 50 point mark, are 13th in the nation in field goal percentage defense, and rank 16th in scoring defense.
And while the Santa Barbara offense needs work — it has yet to eclipse the 70-point mark — it takes what defenses give it. The Gauchos are 25th nationally in free-throw percentage at 74.8%, and that has helped them get through tough games and pick up wins. There is one better free-throw shooting team in the conference though, and that is UC Davis.
The Thunderdome has also provided a huge home-court advantage for UCSB, as the Gauchos are 8-1 at home (10-1 including exhibitions), with the one loss coming by two points.
The Aggies are anchored by sophomore post Paige Mintun, who leads the team in nearly every significant category. Mintun has more points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals than anyone else on the team.
UCSB, meanwhile, has recently been getting balanced production from all ends of the court. Senior guard Lauren Pedersen started the season carrying the team, but her teammates have really come through on the winning streak. In fact, the last three games have seen at least three Gauchos with 10 or more points each.
Pedersen still is the clear target for opposing defenses, but she has a lot of help from senior center Jenna Green. Green has blown up opponents inside, averaging nine points per game, and leading the team in offensive rebounds and blocks. Senior point guard Sha’Rae Gibbons may be the X-factor though. She has given UCSB a lot of its fire back since her return from a wrist injury, and the Gauchos are 7-1 with her in the game.
Tipoff tonight is set for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome. UCSB will then face Pacific at home on Saturday at 2 p.m.