With just two games separating the second and seventh place teams in the Big West to begin round two of conference play, every game counts. And after losing to lower-ranked UC Riverside last Thursday, this weekend’s games will be critical for the UCSB women’s basketball team as the squad travels north to UC Davis tonight and league-leading Pacific Saturday.
The Gauchos are currently tied for fourth in the Big West at 5-4 in conference and 9-12 overall. The Aggies sit one spot below in a tie for sixth in league, holding a 4-5 conference and 9-11 overall record.
“This is a huge road trip because we split last week,” senior center Kirsten Tilleman said. “Davis is always a good team. We were able to handle them at our court, but they’re a very disciplined team.”
While typically playing on the road is more difficult, at 5-4, UCSB has actually performed better away from home. However, the Gauchos will be going up against a hot Davis team. Despite losing its last game to UC Irvine, which was previously 0-8, the Aggies have won three of their last four.
“They’re playing a lot better and they’ll be at home, so it’ll be a different team than what we saw when they were here,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said.
The last time these two teams met up in the Thunderdome, Santa Barbara never trailed, emerging with a dominant 58-43 victory. UCSB held Davis to 11 points at halftime, the fourth fewest points scored by an opponent in the program’s history. Offensively, the Gauchos shot 44.4 percent and tallied 17 assists on their 20 field goals.
Junior guard Melissa Zornig led UCSB offensively with a career-high 24 points. Shooting 5-9 from three, she helped spread the Aggies’ notorious trapping defense.
“I think just like any game, I have to go in there with confidence and I want to do whatever I can to help my team,” Zornig said. “So whether that’s outside shots, getting in the gaps, [I’ll do] whatever I have to do.”
Defensively, Davis leads the Big West in steals with nearly 12 per game, so keeping the turnovers low will be big keys offensively for UCSB. The Gauchos may not score a lot, ranking last in the conference in scoring offense, but they are efficient. The team shoots 40.0 percent from the field, good enough for third in league.
“At the end of the day, you can’t turn the ball over,” Mitchell said. “You have to have an attack mentality. If you are on your heels and are just trying to pass it around the perimeter and not allow the posts to get touch or get a piece of the paint, it becomes a long night.”
On the defensive end for Santa Barbara, the Gauchos will need to be wary of the Aggies’ three point shooting as Davis leads the Big West in three point field goals made at 7.4 per contest.
Luckily for UCSB, the Gauchos lead the Big West in scoring defense, holding teams to 53.9 points per game.
“We’re keeping it to our basics and what we usually do,” Zornig said. “We’re a huge defensive presence in our conference, so as long as we get it done on defense, we’ll be fine.”
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Pavilion.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of February 7th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.