The UCSB women’s basketball team will begin its quest for a second consecutive Big West title this Monday when it begins its season in an exhibition match against Vanguard. In the Big West preseason polls, UCSB was predicted to finish third, behind Northridge and Pacific. Nevertheless, the team did receive three first place votes.
Last year, Head Coach Carlene Mitchell, during her first year coaching the team, turned the Gauchos into a defensive powerhouse known for their blue collar mentality. The team led the Big West in scoring defense, allowing just 52.5 points per game. With Mitchell behind the wheel, the personality of this team will remain the same. Now, the players have a better feel for the system, but what plagued the Gauchos last season was the ability to score, so if they can cut down on their mistakes and put some points on the board, their defense will always keep them in games.
Despite losing two incredible seniors in Emilie Johnson, the team’s leading scorer and point guard, and Kelsey Adrian, the team’s leading three-point threat known for her versatility, the Gauchos have a similar look to last year’s team that took the Big West crown. The team features eight returning players, including three starters.
Here’s a breakdown of this year’s squad:
Nicole Nesbit (junior) — Last year, Nesbit came off the bench as a solid point guard. This year, the team is hers. Nesbit has the ability get to the basket and create her own shot or create for others. She also developed a nice jumper off the dribble. Last season, Nesbit was the team’s second leading scorer (behind Johnson ) at 8.2 points per game and gave fans a glimpse of what she’s capable offensively when she tallied a career high 20 points in the semifinal game of the Big West tournament against Pacific. She also averaged 2.2 assists last season, second on the team. This season, Mitchell will look for consistency from her upperclassman.
Melissa Zornig (junior) — Zornig caught fire during the Big West playoffs last year, averaging 16.7 points. She set a career high against Pacific with 23 points and her efforts were rewarded as she was named to the All-Tournament Team. Zornig’s role on this year’s team will primarily be as a scorer. With a high basketball IQ, the ability to attack the rim, and a solid three point shot, Zornig should easily improve on her 6.8 points per game she set last season. Shooting 30.9 percent from behind the arc last season, second to only Adrian, expect Zornig to be the team’s main three point threat too. However, Zornig will also take on some of the point guard responsibilities.
Destini Mason (senior) — A starter last season, Mason is known for her defense and will be expected to guard the other team’s best guard night in and night out. She has great athletic ability, allowing her to create for others. She also has a solid midrange jump shot. According to Mitchell, Mason has improved immensely since we last saw her, playing much calmer. She has even become a leader on this team, taking the freshmen under her wing. While Mason’s contributions may not always show up in the box scores, her opponents always feel her defensive presence.
Angelei Aguirre (senior) — We have yet to see the best of Aguirre, as she spent the majority of last season out with an injury. However, Mitchell gives Aguirre the most credit for leading the Gauchos to the championship. Aguirre is the team’s most versatile player, offensively and defensively, and has the ability to play positions one through four. Offensively, she can hit the 15-foot jumper and has the ball handling skills to even play point guard. Aguirre’s greatest strength on the offensive end, though, may be her passing. However, UCSB will need Aguirre to put some points on the board. Defensively, Aguirre will share the responsibilities with Mason of guarding the other team’s best player.
Madeline Campbell (sophomore) — As a freshman, Campbell saw limited minutes last year. However, Campbell is a hard worker who can play in multiple positions for UCSB since she has good size at six feet. When she plays, Mitchell will need her to have an attack mentality and get to rim or the free throw line. With her size, Campbell also serves as a great offensive option to post up smaller guards.
Jasmine Ware (freshman) — Ware is another taller guard at 5’10’’ who Mitchell compared to Mason, with her high energy and defensive stopper mentality. Offensively, Ware owns the midrange game and will fit well into the system. Mitchell even called her on the level of a sophomore. So, despite being a freshman, expect Ware to make an impact on the team, especially as the team heads into conference.
Sweets Underwood (senior) — Also a starter last season, Underwood is an extremely athletic player capable of averaging a double-double every game for UCSB. Last season, Underwood averaged 7.7 points and 7 rebounds, good enough for sixth in the Big West. She also shot a high field goal percentage, ranking third in the Big West at 46.9 percent. Underwood owns a quick 15-foot jump shot, but can also post up, which is important in UCSB’s offense, where the four and five positions are interchangeable. As for improvement, Mitchell looks to see Underwood continue to develop her passing, but overall, Underwood is a huge piece of the puzzle for UCSB.
Jackie Luna-Castro (sophomore) — While Luna-Castro is listed as a forward, she played center for UCSB last year, which probably won’t change. Last season, fans saw sparks of great potential in the young freshman, like in the Cal Poly game when she earned the start. Over the offseason, Luna-Castro has worked on her strength, but what Mitchell most hopes to see from Luna- Castro is consistency.
Kendra Morrison (freshman) — Similar to Adrian from last season, Morrison is 6’1’’ and another versatile player. In her time at UCSB so far, Morrison has surprised Mitchell, who said she is “better than I thought with her IQ.” Morrison is a great passer who can also post up. Stronger than Adrian, Morrison isn’t afraid to mix it up more. Expect this freshman to find minutes on the floor.
Kirsten Tilleman (senior) — Known as a blue-collar player, Tilleman was a huge highlight last season for UCSB. As Mitchell has repeatedly stated, “we go as Tilleman goes.” As a starter, she was consistently known for her defensive play, ranking second in the Big West in rebounds at 8.4 per game and seventh in blocked shots at .9. Offensively, Tilleman is the ultimate team player and team’s best post passer. But, Tilleman became a legitimate scoring threat down the stretch of the season, averaging 9.75 points in the final 12 games. She takes advantage of the 17-foot jump shot. Playing the majority of the time on the low block last year, the Gauchos would like to take greater advantage of Tilleman’s outside game. She’s worked on leading more vocally, but Tilleman is the leader of this team.
Jessica Pino (freshman) —Thus far, Pino has made her mark on the Gauchos as a hard worker and a great passer who can also shoot the 17-foot jump shot. Pino’s greatest, though, may be her size. At 6’3’’, Pino brings height to a team that was considered undersized all of last season. The Gauchos will look for Pino to be effective on the low block.