Beginning a three-game road trip this Saturday, the UCSB women’s basketball team could think of no better way to start that road trip than a win over rival Cal Poly.
Santa Barbara enters the Blue-Green rivalry game at 6-10 overall and 2-2 in the Big West, leaving the team in a two-way tie for sixth place. The Mustangs are currently tied for second place in conference with a 9-6 overall mark and 3-1 record in league.
“We had a great win at home (Saturday) and then [we’re] going to follow that up with one of the hottest teams in the conference,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “You’re travelling up the road an hour and a half and I shouldn’t have to use a lot of motivation to get our team ready for a hot Cal Poly team.”
Cal Poly has won its last three games, including a triple overtime 96-95 victory in its most recent game against Pacific last Saturday. In that game, the Mustangs shot 48.7 percent from the field and tallied 22 assists. Junior center Molly Schelmer scored a career-high 28 points while senior guard Kayla Griffin nearly tallied a triple-double with eight points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and four steals.
“It was the first game we watched the next day,” Mitchell said. “They just strike so quickly. They were up 20 points on Pacific in the first half and that’s going to be hard for a team like ourselves and our style of play to recover from that. We have to come out ready to play from the tip because if we bury ourselves into that deep of a hole, it will be a long night.”
UCSB enters the game with momentum as well, after a dominating 58-43 performance over UC Davis Saturday. Defensively, the Gauchos held the Aggies to 11 first-half points, the fourth lowest point total by an opponent in a half in the program’s history, while assisting 17 of their 20 field goals on the offensive end. Junior guard Melissa Zornig paced Santa Barbara offensively with a career-high 24 points.
The Gauchos also enter with an extra chip on their shoulder as Cal Poly won both matchups last year.
However, Cal Poly is a very different team from last year, having lost to graduation Kristina Santiago, who compiled the most points in program history and led the Big West last year with 23.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
“On any given night, it’s a different person leading them in scoring,” Mitchell said. “They have a lot of experience and they’re just not going to and through one person this year.”
As a team, the Mustangs want to score a lot and they want to score quickly. Often playing with a three guard lineup, they rank second in the Big West in both scoring offense and three point field goal percentage at 69.5 points per game and 33.8 percent, respectively. In addition, Cal Poly leads the conference in assists with 16.5 per game.
“We know they want to get out and push the ball,” Mitchell said. “We can’t match them in points, so if we can slow them down and hopefully make them execute more in the half court, then we’ll have a shot to win.”
UCSB would like to keep the score much lower and allow its defense to control the game as the Gauchos rank first in scoring defense, allowing teams just 55.2 points per game.
“[Defense is] always our main focus,” Zornig said.“Defense is going to win games,so if we play our defense, then the offense will flow.”
As a result, the tempo will likely decide which team comes out victorious.
“We’re going to slow down the ball, whether it’s being taken out or rebounded,”senior forward Kirsten Tilleman said. “We usually send a lot of rebounders to the (offensive) glass, but we’re going to have to be a lot more aware of the leaking out.”
Nevertheless, rebounding will be a very important key for UCSB. The Mustangs lead the Big West in rebounding at 42.5 per game, which allows them to jumpstart their fast break.
Helping Santa Barbara on the boards will be two of the top rebounders in conference: Tilleman and senior forward Sweets Underwood. With Underwood ranking third in the Big West with 8.6 boards per game and Tilleman pulling down 6.5 rebounds per game, the Gauchos have become the best in the Big West in rebounding defense, holding their opponents to 33.4 boards per contest.
However, with Cal Poly typically playing a smaller lineup, the Gauchos will need the guards to hit the glass as well.
Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. at Robert A. Mott Gymnasium.
A version of this article appeared on page 4 of January 18th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.