The UCSB women’s basketball team will look to avenge last year’s loss to Fresno State when they open the season as host to the Bulldogs tonight at 7 in the Thunderdome. Last year, in their second game of the season, Santa Barbara lost on the road in Fresno 71-54. However, with home court on their side, the Gauchos will look to flip the script.

With lofty goals set, the preseason favorites to repeat as Big West champions will try to get off to a quick start to the season. However, this will not be an easy task, as the Gauchos must replace five players, including four starters from last year’s squad that went 22-9 overall and won the Big West title with a 15-1 league record.

In order to excel this year, new players must step up for this talented team. Reigning Big West Coach of the Year Lindsay Gottlieb’s squad is led by sophomore point guard Emilie Johnson and junior forward/center Mekia Valentine. Additionally, senior guard/forward Jordan Franey, an All-Big West preseason team selection, will provide veteran leadership as the team’s leading returning scorer (8.0 ppg) and rebounder (4.3 rpg).

Johnson, the Gauchos’ leading returner in threes and free throw percentage, and Valentine, a transfer from Wake Forest who was forced to sit out last season, displayed their impressive outside/inside connection in Santa Barbara’s exhibition game last week against Westmont College. UCSB earned a hard-fought victory and Valentine finished the game with 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks while Johnson poured in 15 points to go along with seven assists.

Although expectations are extremely high for the year, Coach Gottlieb knows that preseason rankings mean nothing. Hard work and execution are still required to succeed. An Oct. 30th tweet from Coach Gottlieb echoes this ideology:

“Picked to finish first in Big West = flattering but not meaningful. Having a team that shrugs it off and works harder = inspiring.”