The UCSB women’s basketball team will put its unbeaten conference record on the line Thursday night, when the Gauchos travel to Stockton to face off against the University of the Pacific. Big West leading scorer Amber Simmons and her Tigers are hoping to make it an unpleasant northern expedition.
In the first meeting between the two conference foes, the Gauchos (16-7, 11-0 Big West) held Simmons to six points and cruised to a 76-54 win– their biggest margin of victory this season. This time will likely be not so easy for UCSB, as Pacific (13-11, 7-5) boasts a hefty home court advantage. The Tigers are 11-1 in Stockton, with the sole loss coming from the ever-formidable UC Riverside Highlanders. But Santa Barbara is not an easily intimidated squad.
“We’ve really hit our stride,” junior forward Jordan Franey said of the Gauchos tear through the Big West. “There’s been a couple games in conference that have been a lot closer than we expected, but I feel like all the parts are coming together.”
One of those close games was this past weekend against Cal Poly — a game that the Gauchos only pulled out in the closing seconds. And while Santa Barbara was able to notch an important road win, it certainly had its costs.
“After the Cal Poly game, the entire team was drained — especially emotionally,” Franey said.
And being undefeated in the league is hardly a walk in the park either. Every conference foe wants to take down the Gauchos, and Pacific will be no exception.
“It’s definitely tough” Franey said. “Every team is gunning for us. We have a target on our backs.”
One reason Santa Barbara has been so successful is the play of Jenna Green, who has been on fire lately, blasting opponents in the paint for 18.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game over her last five.
“Jenna Green is our absolute anchor, game in and game out,” Franey said.
However, as Franey was quick to point out, Green has plenty of help among her teammates. Despite starting point guard Sha’Rae Gibbons being day-to-day with a knee injury, UCSB has no problems with depth. Santa Barbara boasts a pair of guards more than capable of taking over at the point with senior Lauren Pedersen and freshman Emilie Johnson.
The Gauchos are even more stacked at forward, and that depth allows Santa Barbara to pull out games even when players are injured or in foul trouble.
“It’s a testament to Coach G. [Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb] that she has prepared everyone for gametime,” Franey said. “If you look at the Cal Poly game, our bench outscored their bench 22-2, and that’s huge … Not every team has that.”
What the Tigers do have, though, is Simmons. The senior averages a conference-high 17.8 points per game. Senior forward Janae Young also plays a huge role, as she adds 10.6 points and 7.4 rebounds every contest. Further, senior point guard Amy VanHollebeke is third in the Big West with 3.9 assists per game.
With only five conference games remaining before the Big West Tournament, Santa Barbara is approaching perfection. A win in Stockton would be a huge step.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Pacific.