UC Santa Barbara by Michael Jorgenson
Losing your top three scorers from the previous season is rarely going to result in an improved record, but no one on the UCSB side could have predicted that the first two months of their 2014-15 campaign would go this poorly. The Gauchos were voted to finish last in the conference in the Preseason Coaches’ Media Poll, and at 0-14 overall and 0-1 to start conference play, they will be looking to put the preseason behind them as they try to salvage their season.
“Our record is definitely not a place I would have ever thought we would be at,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We were definitely exploited with our tough non-conference schedule, there’s no doubt we had the toughest schedule in the Big West.”
That difficult schedule has resulted in UCSB being outscored by an average of over 20 points per game through 14 contests. The defense has been extremely generous from the perimeter, allowing teams to shoot an astounding 40 percent from three-point range, a mark that would be on the extreme side at any level of competition.
The recurring issue for the Gauchos on the offensive side has been their inability to shoot with any consistency. They are shooting just 31.8 percent from the field and 19.4 percent from beyond the arc, both worst in the conference.
“[Our offense] is hard to evaluate at this point, because is it a skill that you come in with or is that something that can be developed over time?” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, we ask our kids to take the easy shots so when there are contested shots you don’t feel as much pressure to knock those down.”
Inexperience has been an issue for UCSB as underclassmen have logged large amounts of minutes. This problem is only highlighted by the fact that the only two seniors on the roster in center Clair Watkins and guard Kristine Brance are playing in just their second year with the program.
“Probably the most experienced player on our team is a sophomore in Onome Jemerigbe,” Mitchell said. “We coach it so that everyone knows that on any given night it could be their name called, but the problem is that right now we don’t have a person who has shown consistently that they will have the ability to step up in the game.”
Jemerigbe, the 5’5” sophomore point guard, has emerged as the leader on the offensive side, leading the team in points per game (8.1) and field-goal percentage (41.1). Junior guard Jasmine Ware comes in at second on the team in scoring with 8.0 points per game, and Watkins leads the way from inside the paint with 7.2 points per game and team-highs of 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game.
“If you don’t know the feeling of winning over just competing, that’s a dangerous thing,” Mitchell said. “I’ve tried to change my personality a little bit just to back them into a corner and see how they react, and then some days I’m the most positive person on this earth. As a coach you try to figure out which buttons to push and at what time.”
UCSB has shown signs of improvement as the season has progressed. The Gauchos’ best showing of the year came just two games ago against CSU Bakersfield when they recorded season-highs with 64 points on 48.1 percent shooting. It was only the second time this season that they outshot their opponent from the field, but it still wasn’t enough to earn them their first win.
“The conference is a lot better than it probably has been since I’ve been here,” Mitchell said. “We’ll have our hands full. it’s not going to get any easier but if we stick together and continue to grow from what we put on the court (that night) then we’ll be ok.”
The return of small forward Taylor Farris could be beneficial to the Gauchos as they continue searching for a role player who can consistently perform at a high level. The freshman was named College Sports Madness’s Preseason Big West Freshman of the Year before an injury at the start of the season sidelined her for nearly two months.
The Gauchos continue Big West play with a road game against Cal State Northridge on Thursday before they host Long Beach State on Saturday.
Hawaii by Martin Cobos
The University of Hawaii women’s basketball team already seems to have an uphill battle as it looks to build upon back-to-back third-place finishes in the Big West.
The Rainbow Warriors entered into conference play with an overall record of 8-5, but dropped a pair of conference games in opening weekend. The team lost to Cal Poly on Thursday by a score of 65-70 and lost to Cal State Northridge on Saturday by a score of 46-53. Hawaii now stands at 8-7 overall and sits at the bottom of the Big West standings.
“I feel like we have had some really great moments in the preseason,” Head Coach Laura Beeman said. “ However, we have also had some woes in both the preseason and this opening conference weekend. I don’t feel like we’re playing our best basketball.”
Beeman is in her third season as the program’s head coach and she is no stranger to success, having led the women’s basketball team to back-to-back appearances in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT). As head coach, she has currently boasts an overall record of 42- 35 and a Big West conference record of 23-13.
Hawaii has never opened conference play with back-to-back losses in Beeman’s tenure, so the road to a third consecutive WNIT is not going to be easy. The Rainbow Warriors will need to revitalize their offense if they look to bounce back.
“We need to be able to make shots,” Beeman said. “We are missing easy shots right at the rim and we need to improve our field goal percentage.”
Currently Hawaii sits with a combined field goal percentage of .404 and posts a dismal three-point field goal percentage of .255. In addition, the struggling offense averages nearly 17 turnovers per contest.
However, bright spots do exist in Hawaii’s offense. Senior guard Shawna-Lei Kuehu leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 13.5 points per game and an average of 7.4 rebounds per game. Kuehu is also posting an impressive field goal percentage of .462 through 13 games.
Senior guards Morgan Mason and Ashleigh Karaitiana round out Hawaii’s offensive attack as they are both averaging just above 10 points per game. Karaitina leads the team in steals with 25 and is averaging an impressive 33 minutes of playing time per contest.
While the offense does show potential, it is Hawaii’s defense that keeps them in games. The team holds opponents to an average of just 66.1 points per game with a combined field goal percentage of .379. The Rainbow Warriors also force an average of 16.4 turnovers per game.
“Defensively we needed to make improvements and we have done that,” Beeman said. “We simply need to rebound the ball well and make sure that we are ready to make the big play when it comes time.”
With six of seven losses this season having come by a margin of 10 points or less, Hawaii has largely had the opportunity to win every game. With such a tight field in conference, they key for the Rainbow Warriors could come down to simply converting those few extra shots.
“Everybody is very familiar with each other in conference play and there are really no surprises,” Beeman said. “Some teams may be struggling, but for the most part every game is going to the wire and there won’t be many blowouts.”
Hawaii will face UC Riverside this Saturday at 5 p.m.
Cal Poly by Edward Moss
The Cal Poly women’s basketball team is off to a flying start with two wins from its first two matches of conference play. This is a team that sees itself as Big West title contenders with aspirations of getting better day after day.
“We are a young team and we are really pleased with the progress so far,” Head Coach Faith Mimnaugh said. “There’s a lot of teaching to be done, and we’re excited for conference play.”
The Mustangs are hungry for a Big West Championship after losing in the final last season at the hands of Cal State Northridge 73-58. After a strong preseason, the team is ready to go through conference play and hopes to give itself the opportunity to win the Big West this season.
The Mustangs currently hold a 7-7 record overall after wins over Hawaii and UCSB in conference play. Cal Poly defeated the Rainbow Wahine 70- 65 as senior guard Ariana Elegado and sophomore forward Hannah Gilbert combined for 37 points. Freshman guard Dynn Leaupepe added 13 points to go along with six rebounds.
Cal Poly defeated UCSB on Sunday 56-41 off a huge first half where the Mustangs scored 30 points to the Gauchos’ 15. It was the Mustangs’ eighth straight victory over the Gauchos as senior guard Kristen Ale led the team with 14 points.
Elegado leads this young squad both on and off the court. The point guard was named the Big West Women’s Basketball Conference Player of the Week after leading the team’s offense in the first two games of conference play. She averaged 15 points, seven assists and four and a half rebounds per game during the week.
Coming into Thursday’s match against Long Beach State, Elegado has 389 career assists, one shy of tying former All-American Laura Buehning for No. 2 in school history. She’s also 55 points back of No. 4 all-time at Cal Poly, as well as three three-pointers shy of a career total of 212, to tie her for the ninth-most in Big West history.
“[Elegado’s] one of the best players in the conference,” Mimnaugh said. “She is a dynamic scorer and a player who is fun to coach, and fun to watch.”
Other players to watch out for on the Mustang squad are Dynn Leaupepe’s twin sister, Lynn, as well as sophomore guard Rachel Koehler. Senior forward Taryn Garza looks to have a starting role, while junior guard Beth Balbierz will also hope to have an impact in either a starting or bench role.
“We have to be strong on defense and rebounding,” Mimnaugh said. “We will have to limit turnovers to give us a chance to win … The Big West is a strong conference.”
With a young team overall, led by three senior starters, the Mustangs will grow throughout this season with the younger players getting to learn from the elders. Expect this team to vie for a conference championship while leaning on its seniors amongst some growing pains.
Cal State Northridge by Michael Jorgenson
After being voted No. 1 in the Big West Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Northridge had much to prove heading into the 2014-15 season. They have not disappointed so far, earning the conference’s second best overall record at 11-5 and starting 1-1 in conference play.
The Matadors are led by a pair of senior guards in Ashlee Guay and Janae Sharpe, both of whom were voted to the Preseason Media All-Conference Team. Guay is coming off a junior campaign in which she was named Big West Conference Player of the Year and Big West Tournament MVP, and she has not slowed down in her final year. Her 15.6 points per game are tops on the team, as well as her 4.3 assists per game and 1.4 steals.
Backing up Guay is Sharpe, who comes in with 13.9 points per game of her own while pulling down more defensive rebounds than anyone on her team. Senior guard Cinnamon Lister is the third and final Matador averaging double-digits in scoring, doing her damage from the perimeter with team-highs of two three-pointers made per game on 39 percent shooting from long range, good for fifth best in the conference.
While Northridge doesn’t score a particularly high amount of points, averaging the fifth- most points as a team in the conference at 66 a game, their defense has shined this year. The Matadors hold their opponents to just 60.1 points per game on a Big West-leading 36.8 percent shooting.
Their defense will need to remain strong as conference play gets open, as their offense has dropped off since the beginning of the new year. Despite an average of 66 points per game, they have not been as efficient in Big West games, averaging just 51 points a night on 32.7 percent shooting.
After a 60-49 loss to UC Davis in its Big West opener, Northridge rebounded to defeat Hawaii 53-46 and get back to .500.
Up next, the Matadors are set to play UCSB at home this Thursday before traveling to Cal Poly for a Saturday afternoon matchup.
UC Davis by Ryan Martin
Returning all five starters from last season, the UC Davis women’s basketball team will look to improve on 2014’s fifth-place finish in the Big West. The Aggies finished up preseason play with a 5-7 record and split their first two conference games, going 1-1.
Fifth-year Head Coach and former Aggie point guard Jennifer Gross will look to lead a talented squad with high hopes into the heart of their conference schedule. Senior forward Sydnee Fipps and junior forward Alyson Doherty lead the scoring for this high-powered offense averaging 16.0 and 13.5 points per game, respectively. The 5’10” Fipps was named to the preseason First Team All-Big West, and 6’3” Doherty was named to the All-Big West Conference Second Team after both achieved stellar 2013-’14 campaigns.
On top of returning all five starters, the team lost just one player from last year’s squad. There is talent up and down the roster with a nice balance of upperclassmen (three seniors, five juniors) and lowerclassmen (two sophomores, five freshmen).
One thing the Aggies know they can count on is their three-point shooting. Senior guard Kelsey Harris is shooting 53.2 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks number one in the entire nation. The success comes as no surprise to the Brea, California native as she finished last season with 86 three-pointers made, breaking a UC Davis record that stood since 1991. Harris’ sharpshooting forces defenses to play the perimeter tight which in-turn opens up scoring lanes for Fipps and Doherty.
On the boards, junior forward Celia Marfone has been money for Davis, pulling down double-digit rebounds in each of her last three games including a season-high 12 against Long Beach State. The frontcourt duo of Marfone and Doherty, which is averaging 6.0 rebounds per game, give the Aggies a ton of confidence to continue launching three-balls, even if they don’t need it.
The Aggies suffered a big loss when it was determined that junior guard Molly Greubel would be lost for the season due to wrist injury. Greubel led the Big West in free-throw percentage and ranked eighth in assists per game last season. Freshman guard Dani Nafekh has done a good job stepping in for Greubel and Davis will hope she can keep it up for the rest of the season.
Although the lady Aggies’ preseason record was average at best, they faced a number of tough opponents including No. 1 UConn and No. 6 Stanford. Gross hopes that games against that type of competition will better prepare Davis for the meaningful Big West matchups. Davis will play CSUF on Saturday the 17th.
Long Beach State by Sarah Stigers
The Long Beach State women’s basketball team is coming in hot to Big West conference play after a nearly undefeated preseason.
The 49ers have only suffered one loss this season, giving them a league-best 15-1 overall record and, with wins over UC Irvine and Davis this month, they bring a 13-game winning streak and a 2-0 Big West record into the weekend. Their only loss this season was an 85-90 overtime defeat against USC.
Long Beach seems to be starting the climb out of a nine-year conference slump, as the Niners have not placed above fifth in the conference since their Big West title in 2006.
Players like junior center Devin Hudson and sophomore guard Raven Benton are leading that charge. Hudson was honored as Big West Player of the Week on Dec. 15, and Benton was nominated for the same award this past week. Both Benton and teammate sophomore guard Anna Kim made the Big West All-Freshman team last season.
Hudson currently leads the league in rebounds per game, snagging an average of 7.8 rebounds. Kim is also topping the 2014-’15 season charts, ranking third in the conference in field goal percentage with a 51.4 percent average.
The Long Beach offense has managed to score over 70 points seven times this season and 85 points during three of those seven games. The 49er offensive power shows as they continue to put up high-scoring games and rank third in the conference in offensive rebounds, but what seems as a possible road bump in their success is their defense.
The Niners have played nine games within a ten-point margin so far this season, eight of which were wins and two of which were forced into overtime. Though they currently top the conference in average steals, the team’s rebound average drops from a third ranking on offense to a sixth-best on defense. In addition, they are allowing 17.2 turnovers per game, which only puts an average 1.1 turnovers between the number one Long Beach State and last place UC Irvine.
If this Long Beach team wants to continue its success, it is going to have to keep the ball in the hands of its offense, which means making sure it cleans up on the defensive glass more often and decreases its current average turnovers.
Preseason lineups are different for every team, but for Long Beach to stay on top, the 49er defense has to be able to handle the strong conference offenses like that of Cal State Northridge, while continuing to force turnovers. Long Beach will come to Santa Barbara to play the Gauchos at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday.
Cal State Fullerton by Daniel Moebus-Bowles
The CSUF Titans are off to a perfect start in Big West Conference play with a record of 1-0 after going 6-7 in their non-conference matchups. Now standing at an even .500, this Titan team has shown that it can play in any environment by just about splitting their wins between the road and home. Before starting their season, Fullerton was voted to place sixth in the conference, scoring 53 points in official media polls. They currently stand at third.
This team is one that has played in some very close competitions, as their margin of points to allow to be scored is just -1.3 points. The team finds its way out of these close calls with its vast amount of three-point shots. On average, this team takes 24.4 threes a game and knocks down 32.5 percent of them. This equates to just under 40 percent of the Titans’ 61.8 points per game coming from behind the perimeter. Their efficient shooting from outside is nearly better than their overall field-goal percentage that sits at 39.6.
Needless to say that this team can hit from outside and will take its talent into conference play, something it showed with its 30 three-point attempts in its first win over UC Riverside.
With the long ball being a large part of their offense, the Titans take a huge part in giving themselves second opportunities on the glass. They average 12.6 offensive rebounds a game, which often lead to second chance points off of those missed perimeter shots.
Ironic to their offensive power, the Titans are often burned on the defensive end by good three-point shooting teams. They allow 30.6 percent on all opponents’ perimeter shots as well as a 39.7 percent for all field goals. Luckily for them, they often force teams into blocked shots or turnovers, leading them perfectly into their offense.
This team is without a doubt led by senior guard Chante Miles, who leads in scoring and assists and has been hot coming into Big West play. Miles averages 19.4 points, 5.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game for her Titans, and fuels the three-point stats that this team boasts. Miles herself is shooting 37.6 percent from behind the arch and has nearly knocked down 50 already this season.
She was recently awarded Big West Player of the Week honors following two games in which she dominated. Miles posted a double-double of 18 points and 12 assists in the Titan win over UMKC followed by a 28-point, six-assist, four-rebound and three-steal performance in their win over Seattle.
Miles will look to keep her Titans undefeated as they head on a road trip featuring tough teams in UC Irvine and UC Davis.
UC Irvine by Jack Mathews
With Big West play underway, the young and inexperienced UC Irvine women’s basketball team finds itself at the bottom of the conference.
“You don’t ignore wins or losses, or in our case, so many losses because you have to take ownership for what’s going on,” Head Coach Doug Oliver said. “But the challenge is that as young players this is a learning experience, every practice and every game.”
The Anteaters lost seven seniors to graduation last year and now must deal with an entirely new lineup that consists of nine underclassmen and only two seniors.
UC Irvine was projected to finish seventh in the Big West Preseason Media Poll. After finishing last season with a record of 17-15 and a trip to the Big West Tournament semifinals, UCI currently holds a 3-14 overall record and 0-2 league mark, with a Big West title looking increasingly unlikely.
The key to UC Irvine’s success rides heavily on the play of sophomore forward Mokun Fajemisin who leads the team with averages of 11.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. At 6’0”, Fajemisin has risen to the occasion all season with her feverish defense and aggressive shot blocking.
Along with the stellar play of Fajemisin, senior guard Madison McKenney and senior forward Methlyn Onogomuho will be called upon to step up and provide leadership and production for the struggling Anteaters as they try and turn their season around during Big West play.
“We need our two seniors to play good,” Oliver said. “These two know the expectations and they know what to do in our system.”
Rounding out the starting five for Irvine is freshman forward Brittany Glassow and junior guard Raelyn Cheung-Sutton. Glassow is averaging 4.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 22.5 minutes in her freshman campaign while Cheung-Sutton leads the Anteaters with 69 assists.
The Anteaters will have to grow up fast to have any success in conference play this year as more experienced teams will attempt to capitalize on the lack of height that Irvine has. UC Irvine has no one above 6’2” and is forced to rely on speed and effort to make up for this height disadvantage. Irvine first plays UCSB Jan. 29 at 7:00 p.m.
UC Riverside by Sean White
Certainly UC Riverside women’s basketball team has made improvements this season that can make it a true contender in the Big West Conference. The Highlanders are 10-6 with a 1-1 conference record, already giving them four more wins than last season’s 6-23 overall record.
Riverside earned its best Division I start in school history with a 5-0 winning streak to begin the season and currently leads the Big West Conference in points per game with 70.3 while ranking second in the Big West in field goal percentage at 41.8 percent.
Nonetheless, UC Riverside’s effort defensively has been solid so far this season. The Highlanders allow opponents to average 62.2 points per game, shoot 38.1% from the field, 30.4% from behind the perimeter, 9.5 steals per game, and force 18.4 turnover per game.
Without a doubt, junior guard Brittany Crain is the team’s most valuable player, leading her team in almost every important statistical category. Crain averages a conference best 23.3 points per game, 2.4 steals per game, 7.1 rebounds per game, shoots 45.3 percent from the field, and is the team’s leading free throw shooter at 78.6 percent. She has been named the Big West Conference Athlete of the Week three times this season, two of those three honors coming in consecutive weeks. Additionally, Crain has scored thirty or more points in five games and has a season-high of 35 points.
Although the majority of UCR’s workload falls on Crain’s shoulders, there are other players on the team who contribute to the Highlanders play as well. Last season’s Big West Conference Freshman of the Year, sophomore guard Simone DeCoud, has stepped up as one of UC Riverside’s most dependable players. DeCoud averages 12.9 points per game, shoots 41.4 percent from behind the three-point line, and leads the Highlanders in assists with four per game.
Junior Annelise Ito is another player from Riverside’s arsenal of guards that plays a significant role in the Highlanders game on the court. Ito is third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.8 points per game, and is tied with Crain for being the team’s leading rebounder with 7.1 a game.
“One of the things that has affected us in the last three years is our inability to stay healthy,” Head Coach John Margaritis said. “We are on that thin line of if people are healthy, then we compete, and if people are not healthy, then we’re not as good.”
Early in the season UC Riverside lost its size and power in the paint as it lost junior forward Réjane Verin, redshirt sophomore center Jazzmeen Williams, redshirt freshman center Dre’Mel Spencer, and senior forward Jamila Williams to injuries.
“Having the flexibility and ability to adjust when it comes to injuries or illnesses when you’re not at full strength,” Margaritis explained. “Those are the things that in the past have influenced the outcomes of games.”
Despite a 2-14 record last season that ranked last in the Big West Conference standings and kept UCR out of the Big West Tournament last season, the Highlanders have a convincing chance to compete in March for the first time since 2011.
UC Riverside will be on the road for a conference matchup at Hawai’i this Saturday at 7 p.m.