While it will surely be an emotional weekend for the UCSB women’s basketball team as it plays its final home games of the season, tonight’s game against Long Beach State is without doubt the most crucial game of the year with seedings for the Big West Tournament on the line.
“It’s an exciting game to be a part of [to] cap off our senior season and our time as Gauchos in front of our home crowd and families,” senior center Kirsten Tilleman said. “It’s incredibly important that we can do that in front of them, but also look past that and just play.”
The Gauchos are currently holding onto fourth place in conference at 9-7 in the Big West and 13-15 overall and can solidify fourth with a victory tonight. The 49ers are just a game behind UCSB in fifth place with an 8-8 league and 15-13 overall mark.
Finishing fourth is critical because with the new playoff format, seeds three and four earn byes into the quarterfinals.
“We want to be playing our best basketball in March now, looking forward to the Big West Tournament,” senior guard Angelei Aguirre said. “[We’re] focusing on us, being able to execute and be disciplined.”
In a rematch of last year’s Big West Championship, UCSB needs to find a way to win at home as the team is just 4-8 in the Thunderdome. This weekend, the Gauchos will try to win back-to-back home games for the first time this season.
“We have to realize that it is March and that there are no more opportunities to sit back and let things happen to us,” Tilleman said. “We have to be the initiators and realize that this is it.”
The last time these two teams met on Jan. 5, the score was tied at 44 with 1:41 to go. However, the Gauchos made crucial errors down the stretch and lost 52-45.
“They changed defenses a lot and we had a lot of unforced turnovers,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We have to do a better job of executing no matter what defense they’re in.”
The 49ers are led by a pair of sophomores in guard Alex Sanchez and center Devin Hudson. Sanchez leads her team with 10.8 points per game and ranks third in the Big West in three-point field goal percentage at 38.3 percent. Hudson averages 8.0 rebounds and leads LBSU in scoring during conference play with 10.9 points per game.
“We’ll continue to play man,” Mitchell said. “That’s our bread and butter. They have shooters … so we’ll stick with what we do best.”
Defense is certainly what UCSB does best. On average, the Gauchos hold their opponents to just 53.3 points per game and 36.4 percent shooting. Defensively in the last game, the Gauchos sent the 49ers to the line 33 times. Long Beach took advantage, making 25 of those attempts.
Having played the 49ers during the first weekend of conference play, UCSB is an extremely different team and know that like last year, March is the time to step up.
“I think we’ve matured a lot since then and have gotten more team chemistry,” Aguirre said.
Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.