It has been a tale of two seasons for the UCSB women’s basketball team.

[media-credit id=20120 align=”alignleft” width=”180″][/media-credit]After a slow start to the year, the Gauchos have managed to win seven of their last nine games, setting up their first home conference game on Thursday against UC Davis (12-3 overall) — the preseason pick to win the Big West this season.

“Everyone keeps asking us what is different about this team, but I don’t think there is anything different about us,” senior forward Mekia Valentine said. “We are doing the same things we did on day one, we are just more aggressive about it and we come out with kind of a swag. We know when we run our stuff really well, it is bound to work.”

Despite the rough start for the Gauchos, UCSB is currently 7-6 (1-0 in conference) coming off of last weekend’s 70-43 win over Long Beach State.

“Every game is going to be a challenge and we have to come out with a swagger and preparedness for every game,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “We think of Davis in that sense, the same that we do as any other opponent. It will be a great test for us, but at the same time no championships will be won in early January.”

The Aggies split their first two conference games, winning 78-56 over Northridge after losing 58-56 to Fullerton. UCSB has not lost its first home conference game since 1989. A win would extend the squad’s winning streak in conference home openers to 22.

UCSB is 11-6 all-time against UC Davis. However, the Aggies have won the last three of the teams’ meetings, the last of which was in the Big West semifinals last year.

“They are a really good team and they are also really good at what they run,” Valentine said. “It will be a good match-up because they have a little bit of height too, and it will be a really good and crucial conference game for us. If we come out, and we execute well and take care of the ball, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that we will do a phenomenal job.”

The Aggies are led by 6’2” senior Paige Mintun and 6’ sophomore Vicky Deely, who average 13.5 and 11.2 points per game, respectively. This game figures to be a defensive battle, with UCSB holding opponents to a Big West best 34.7 percent from the field.

“We need to practice hard and prepare to beat their zone,” senior forward Margaret Johnson said. “The last couple of teams we have played used that, so it has prepared us. It is going to be a challenge, but we are excited about it.”

The Gauchos will try to get off to their first 2-0 start in conference play for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

“Getting better is important. The teams that stop getting better in January are not going be the ones winning in March,” Gottlieb said. “We need to keep getting better so that as other teams are leveling off we can hopefully be the best team in March. We want to win every time we step on the floor, but the team also understands we want to be the best possible team throughout the season, particularly in March.”

The game takes place at the Thunderdome tonight at 7 p.m.