A regular season conference title is within reach for UCSB women’s basketball, but first the Gauchos need to take care of business at home against Long Beach tonight.

[media-credit name=”Lance Chu” align=”alignright” width=”250″][/media-credit]After its 67-57 nonconference win over Seattle Sunday, UCSB (16-10 overall, 9-4 Big West) sits at second place in the conference while Long Beach (8-19, 6-7) is tied for fifth. In the team’s last meeting, the Gauchos dominated the 49ers 70-43, improving their series record to 44-20.

Senior forward Mekia Valentine continues to lead the Gauchos, along with the entire Big West, in rebounds and blocked shots with 10.7 and 3.8 per game respectively while adding 10.8 points per game. Valentine, who won Big West player of the week this week, is only 23 blocked shots away from becoming the program’s all-time leader in blocks.

Behind strong play from Valentine and junior guard Emilie Johnson, the Gauchos have won six of their last seven games, including the last four in a row. Johnson leads the team with 13.1 points and 3.2 assists per game.

After a pair of victories by UCSB last week, along with two slip-ups from the rival Mustangs, the Gauchos have stormed back into the battle for a regular season conference championship. If both teams win their next two games, it would set up a decisive match with the conference title on the line on March 5 on the road at Cal Poly.

The 49ers should not be overlooked, though, winning three in a row including victories over third and fourth place teams Davis and Riverside. After starting conference play at 1-6, Long Beach has gone on to win five of its last six conference games.

Long Beach senior forward Courtney Jacob’s 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game are good enough to lead the 49ers, while freshman guard Brandi Henton is second on the team with 13 points per game.

Tip-off against Long Beach is set for 7 p.m. tonight in the Thunderdome.