Having taken care of business at the end of their Big West schedule, the UCSB women’s basketball team now prepares for a conference tournament that for the first time in three years will not feature them as the favorites. After losing seven league bouts, something the Gauchos (12-16, 9-7) have not done since the 1993-94 campaign, UCSB now wears the guise of an underdog and will travel to Anaheim as either the #4 or #5 seed.
“We’re expecting to have a Gaucho end,” senior guard Chris Spencer said. “The way we’ve gotten there hasn’t been the same as the other Gaucho teams, but we expect the same result.”
For Santa Barbara to earn the #4 seed and the first-round bye that accompanies it, Long Beach State will have to lose to UC Riverside at Riverside this Saturday. Should the 49ers pull the upset over a Highlander squad that is currently in contention for the top seed, UCSB will be saddled with the #5 seed and an opening round date with either Pacific or Cal State Northridge. In both scenarios, the Gauchos would likely meet up with LBSU, a team that beat them twice during the regular season, in the second round.
“Obviously, we would like to move up to the fourth spot,” said Spencer. “But I think either way, either outcome, we can have peace of mind knowing that we did everything we could to control our [postseason] destiny.”
Looking closer at next week’s tourney, the #4 and #5 seeds aren’t the only ones still up for grabs. While Pacific seems a lock for the #8 seed, if Cal State Northridge can upset UC Davis and then beat the Tigers on the road, the Matadors would be last in. UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton have ensured themselves the #7 and #6 seed respectively and will play each other next Wednesday, but from there on up the various scenarios abound.
The top three teams in the Big West (Riverside, Davis and Cal Poly, in that order) still have yet to sort themselves out. The Highlanders have the shortest path to the top seed, needing only a win over Long Beach and a Davis loss to either Fullerton or Northridge to solidify their top position. The Aggies are hoping for exactly the opposite, for if Riverside stumbles against LBSU and Davis wins out, they’ll be the one with UCR at the #2 seed. Keep in mind, however, that the Titans have already beaten UCD this year at home 68-57. Cal Poly needs to beat UCI this Saturday and to hope for mistakes from Riverside and Davis if they are to avoid playing in the second round. A loss at Irvine would earn them the tournament’s #3 seed.
But for UCSB, all these possible outcomes are simply white noise as the team travels north to Bakersfield for their regular-season finale and, more importantly, their final tuneup before the Big West Tournament.
“I think we’re on a roll,” sophomore guard Emilie Johnson said. “We have the momentum, and we’re going to keep going with it. We’re going to do whatever we can to cut down those nets.”