Kevin Son/ Daily Nexus

The time has come for the UCSB women’s basketball program’s annual exhibition game. The return provides us with a preview of what’s to come prior to the team’s regular season start on the road at Northern Arizona on Nov. 10.

Before that, UCSB will host Cal State East Bay this Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Thunderdome.

The buzz surrounding the third chapter of head coach Bonnie Henrickson’s UCSB tenure has heightened following the Gauchos’ Big West Tournament championship appearance last season, where they fell short to Long Beach State, 56-55.

Santa Barbara is coming off a 16-16 overall, 9-7 Big West finish, in which it made back-to-back conference tournament appearances for the first time since the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

UCSB returns four of its five starters from last season, with the only loss being the graduation of former point guard Onome Jemerigbe.

The program’s offseason additions consisted of five freshmen recruits – two point guards in Celine Quintino and Danae Miller along with three guards in Sarah Bates, Mira Shulman and Nina Radford. Signing after the Gauchos’ tournament run was junior guard Akilah Jennings, who transferred to UCSB after one year at Northern Colorado and one season at Foothill College.

Redshirt sophomore guard Tal Sahar, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after her departure from Seattle University, will be making her Gaucho debut this year.
Upon entering Saturday’s matchup, UCSB was tabbed to finish third in the Big West standings in both of the conference’s preseason coaches’ and media polls.

Presuming that its starters will play for only the first quarter at most, Santa Barbara’s exhibition will serve as more of an experimentation period with its lineup considering some players will be sidelined.

“It’s exciting and a good opportunity for us to play somebody else. The third chapter might start with a bunch of Band-Aids on it because we’re a little dinged up, but at least it’s November,” Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “We’re going to hold Drew [Edelman] out because she’s got a right thumb that’s been sore. We’ve got a couple more bodies in that we didn’t have a week ago so we’re still a work in progress. For those that have been out and are coming back in, [the most important thing] is for them to get some reps and be in practice every day as their growth continues.”

According to Henrickson, other Gauchos who have experienced offseason injuries and are gradually making their way back include sophomore guard Aliceah Hernandez, Bates and Quintino.

While exhibition games typically result in a Division I program facing some lower-tiered Division II, III or even less reputable schools, the Gauchos are going against one of their best preseason opponents of the Henrickson era on Saturday.

Cal State East Bay enters the 2017-18 season with momentum following a 22-9, 16-4 CCAA record with the guidance of then first-year Head Coach Shanele Stires. Within the past two years, the Pioneers have made back-to-back Division II NCAA tournament appearances after capturing consecutive CCAA women’s basketball tournament titles.

East Bay won 11 of its last 12 regular season games going into the CCAA tournament, where it won three straight games to win the title before losing to Western Washington in the first round of the DII NCAA West Regional.

How CSU East Bay will do on the offensive end is most intriguing following the loss of former guard Shomari Harris, who led both the CCAA and Pioneers in scoring with 17 points per game (PPG). Another senior that will be missed is former center Remy Puou, who was the team’s second leading scorer with 10.2 PPG.

Despite its DII status, East Bay presents a challenge that could possibly deliver an exhibition game that possesses a regular season feel, which is competition the Gauchos are ready to embrace.

“When you’re scheduling [games dating back] a year ago, considering our anticipation of returning to the Big West tournament, it’s the right thing to do [to challenge ourselves],” Henrickson said. “We’re going to play against some players that we haven’t seen in their system. We’re trying to dig up some film on what they looked like last year. There’s going to be some things that we’re going to see that we’re not going to be able to anticipate. But then that’s where the use of timeouts and communicating in huddles help to make some adjustments on the fly.”

With very little weighing on the outcome of Saturday’s exhibition, not much pressure is on UCSB, who won’t be at full health when they compete. With just one preseason game before its regular season tip-off, the Gauchos still have a chance to set a precedent as to what they hope to become this year.

The exhibition between UCSB and CSUEB will take place in the Thunderdome at 5 p.m.

A version of this story appeared on p. 8 of the Nov. 2, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus.