The first of the UCSB women’s basketball team’s three-game home stretch begins this Satuday when it hosts UC Riverside. Playing in their conference home opener, the Gauchos will look to end the Highlanders undefeated start in Big West play.

Santa Barbara enters its first home game of 2017 with a 6-9, 1-1 Big West record. One of two Big West teams with an unblemished conference record, alongside Long Beach State, UCR visits UCSB at 8-7, 2-0 in conference play.

UC Riverside is seeking its sixth consecutive victory against UCSB. The Highlanders’ offense has typically dominated when facing UCSB, defeating the Gauchos by an average of 14.4 points per game during their streak.

After becoming just the second program in Big West history to finish undefeated with a 16-0 record last season, Riverside has sustained its dominance so far in the New Year. With a current 2-0 Big West record, the Highlanders have now won 18 consecutive conference games.

Allowing a combined 175 points in its two losses to the Highlanders last season, UCSB is committed to improving on the defensive end in attempt to contain the orderly ball movement and quickness of UCR’s potent offense.

With the nearly uncontainable Brittany Crain, former two-time Big West Player of the Year and star player who put up a combined 56 points in two wins over UCSB last year  no longer in a Highlanders’ uniform, the Gauchos have one less worry to conquer in facing UCR’s arsenal of scorers.

Following last season’s finish as one of the conference’s top defenses, UCSB has remained consistent defending the ball. The Gauchos are the third best scoring defense in the Big West, allowing just 64.0 point per game.

Saturday has the potential to be a defensive battle as the Highlanders sit atop the conference in points allowed per contest, allowing 63.5 points per game.

Since the start of Big West play, UC Riverside has matched its stoutness on defense with improvements on offense as well. In two conference games, UCR is tied in scoring with an average of 72.0 points per game.

A team that boasts three double figure scorers, at the forefront of the Highlanders’ offense is the versatile talent of senior forward Réjane Vérin.

UCR’s power in the paint, Vérin leads the Big West in both scoring and assists per game at averages of 17.1 and 4.5, respectively. She is also known for her hustle on the boards as her 8.1 rebounds per game places her second in the league.

Vérin has flat out been the best player in Big West play thus far, averaging a conference leading 23.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, respectively. Leading UCR’s frontcourt, she has tallied four double-doubles in addition to scoring 20-plus points in six games this season.

Aiding Vérin is the backcourt duo of senior guard Simone DeCoud and junior guard Lauren Holt. With higher expectations placed upon them entering this season, both have emerged to help carry the offensive load for UC Riverside, averaging 12.5 and 12.4 points per game, respectively.

Most notably, both have been impressive on the defensive end of the court as well after playing in two conference games. Since the beginning of Big West play, DeCoud and Holt each average 2.0 steals per game, tying for fourth most in the conference.

In preparing to face a team that can be productive on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, UCSB must remain committed to its pace of offense and not allow UCR’s fast paced strategy to dismantle its possessions as the Highlanders possess a conference leading 6.1 steals per game.

Known for operating its offense around its shooters, UCSB plays at its highest level when it can knock down the three.

In the Gauchos’ last four games they have made at least six three-pointers.

Typically known for her driving ability, senior point guard Onome Jemerigbe has been efficient from behind the three-point line.

She currently leads the Big West in three-point percentage with a 45.9 average and is coming off a 3-for-3 performance from beyond the arc in UCSB victory over Cal State Fullerton last Saturday.

Also within the Gauchos’ split of games during their pair of conference openers was the outstanding three-point shooting of sophomore guard Coco Miller.

Leading UCSB in scoring with 11.3 points per game, Miller made a career-high seven shots from behind the perimeter to end the game with 23 points in UCSB’s loss to Cal Poly.

Helping spark the Gauchos’ three-point shooting has been the assisting of both Jemerigbe and redshirt junior point guard Drea Toler. Since the start of Big West play, Jemerigbe is tied for the conference lead with Vérin at 5.5 assists per game. Off by just .5 of a mark is Toler at 5.0 helpers per game.

UCSB and UC Riverside will tip-off this Saturday, Jan. 14  at 2 p.m. at the Thunderdome.