With the opportunity to earn its longest win streak of four games at stake, the UCSB women’s basketball team will host the University of Hawaii in the final contest of its three-game home stand this Saturday.
One of three teams tied for second place in the Big West standings, alongside Long Beach State and UC Riverside, UCSB is now one win away from the .500 mark at 8-9 overall and 3-1 in conference play.
After winning the Big West title and making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998 last season, Hawaii has experienced a slight decline as it sits at 6-10, 2-2. It is currently on a two-game winning streak after earning its first road win at Cal Poly on Thursday.
Giving Santa Barbara its best chance to capture its fourth consecutive win is redshirt sophomore guard Sarah Porter. The reigning Big West Athlete of the Week is coming off back-to-back career performances.
Scoring a career-high 22 points in last Saturday’s victory over UCR, Porter had another outstanding performance in the Gauchos’ most recent win against LBSU Thursday night as she earned her first career double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
The Gauchos’ leading scorer since the start of conference play, averaging 14.8 points per game, Porter has been most effective from behind the three-point line. During UCSB’s winning streak, she has made at least three shots from behind the perimeter in three-straight games, and is averaging a three-point percentage of 45 percent.
She is currently tied with fellow Gaucho sophomore guard Coco Miller for third in the Big West in both three-point makes per game and total threes made at a 2.2 average and 38 apiece, respectively.
Providing a lift on both offense and defense when coming off the bench continues to be redshirt junior point guard Drea Toler.
In the team’s previous game she tied her career-high of 14 points. Possessing the ability to penetrate and drive to the basket or kick the ball out to shooters, Toler leads the Big West in assists per 40 minutes with a 7.7 average and is tied for third with a 4.3 average per game.
Meanwhile, the aftermath of five seniors departing continues to affect Hawaii as its young core of seven freshman and five sophomores continues to learn their roles on the court.
A graduating class that included impact players such as leading scorer Destiny King and its leading three-point shooter for three-straight seasons in Ashleigh Karaitiana, Hawaii has struggled thus far this season.
The Rainbow Wahine rank last in the Big West in scoring, averaging 58.1 points per game and are second to last at eighth in three-point shooting percentage at 28.1.
Despite the team’s subpar averages, leading the Rainbow Wahine in a majority of their games has been the team’s only upperclassmen and backcourt duo senior point guard Briana Harris and junior guard Sarah Toeaina.
Toeaina serves as Hawaii’s leading scorer at 12.3 points per game, while Harris is the runner up at 10.8 per contest. In the team’s win over Cal Poly Thursday night, the two guards combined for 47 points to bolster the Rainbow Wahine’s season-high field goal finish of 57 percent.
Pacing Hawaii’s great shooting night was Harris, who matched her career-high of 24 points and Toeaina, who finished with 23 points and a career-high six assists.
Although Hawaii has struggled shooting from beyond the arc, it has been exceptional in defending the long range shot as it leads the Big West in three-point defense with a 26.3 average, ranking just ahead of UCSB at second with a 28.3 average.
However, the Gauchos have allowed the least amount of total three-point makes in the conference at 68-of-240 in comparison to Hawaii’s second-place standing of 92-of-350.
With both teams presenting stout defense along the perimeter, it could be expected that both programs attempt to score most of their points in the paint in hopes of sucking in the defense to create opportunities along the three-point line.
UCSB and Hawaii will tip-off today at 4 p.m. at the Thunderdome.