It’s been a disappointing year for the UCSB women’s basketball team so far.

Currently 1-4 in the Big West, Santa Barbara has lost on the road and at home. It’s lost to great teams in the Big West as well as beatable teams.

Now, the Gauchos must put all that behind them as the team plays two games on the road this week, beginning with UC Irvine tonight.

“We’re in a hole in the Big West as far as record, but like I told these kids, the season’s not over,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “As soon as you stop playing or as soon as you think the fat lady’s singing, there’s no reason to be in this business. You coach to win every game. The players play to win, so other than that it’s short-term memory and you get back to work.”

Holding seventh place in the Big West, the Gauchos will have the opportunity to shake up the conference standings this weekend as Irvine sits just one place above them. The Anteaters are 9-10 overall and 2-3 in the Big West.

While most of its games have been played on the road, Irvine owns a perfect home record of 4-0.

The biggest problem throughout conference play for UCSB has been consistency. In the team’s most recent loss to Cal State Fullerton, Santa Barbara played a solid first half, taking a 33-23 lead into halftime. However, the Gauchos broke down defensively in the second half, allowing the Titans 44 points.

“I feel like a broken record, but we have to continue to do what we usually do, especially with defense,” senior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “At this point in the season, everyone needs to know their role. Nothing has changed from the beginning to the season to now. We have to do what we do and do it well.”

The only point of reliability for UCSB this season has been its offense. The Gauchos rank third in the conference in field goal percentage, shooting 40.6 percent. Their three senior guards in Nesbit, Melissa Zornig and Destini Mason average double-figures on a nightly basis.

Yet this week, the stress in practice is undoubtedly on defense. Not only has the Santa Barbara defense been uncharacteristically inconsistent this season, holding teams to 62.8 points during wins compared to 73.1 points during losses, but Irvine ranks second in the Big West in scoring with 71.5 points per game.

The Anteaters may not be the tallest team, but they do have a big post presence inside. Irvine will work its offense around senior forward Camille Buckley, who ranks eighth in the conference in scoring with 15.6 points per game.

“We’ll mix it up,” Mitchell said. “We’ll have to be extremely disciplined, like we were the first half against Fullerton, and we’ll have to probably run two different people at Buckley at times looking to double team her because she’s that good.”

Nevertheless, Buckley isn’t the only offensive threat. Irvine surrounds Buckley with shooters, including senior guard Jennifer Tsurumoto, who ranks first on the team and fifth in the league in scoring with 16.2 points per game.

“Any given night, they have Camille Buckley who has the chance to play at the next level. She’s a big time athlete, but they also have shooters,” Mitchell said. “They’re balanced. Any given night, they can probably beat anyone in the conference.”

After playing defense, it will be critical for the Gauchos that they secure the rebound, not only to keep Irvine from earning second chance opportunities, but to jumpstart the offense before Irvine can set its zone defense.

Led by Buckley, who averages 9.4 rebounds per game, Irvine ranks second in the Big West in rebounding, grabbing 41.8 boards per game. UCSB currently ranks last at 34.2 rebounds per game.

“Rebounding is huge,” Mason said. “We only got outrebounded by three [against Fullerton], but it’s when we got outrebounded. It was at critical times and they got momentum off of it because they were knocking down threes.”

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Bren Events Center.


A version of this article appeared on page 7 of January 30th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

Photo by Shaminder Dhindsa of the Daily Nexus.