After a crazy first week of conference play that featured an overtime loss and a late game-winner, the UC Santa Barbara women’s basketball team (6-9, 1-1) proved they will be a competitive force in the Big West. This week, the team will look to exorcise their road demons when they travel to take on UC Irvine and UC Riverside.
On paper, the Big West looked to be wide open this season, and the first week of conference play seemed to confirm that notion. Out of the eight conference games last week, only one game was decided by double figures: UC Davis’ 13-point victory over Hawai’i on Saturday.
Behind the interior dominance of freshman forward-center Ila Lane, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) seems to be in the thick of the conference race. In the ‘Chos near loss to conference-favorite Fullerton, Lane secured her ninth double-double of the season, finishing with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Saturday, however, the Gauchos proved they could win even without much production from Lane. With Lane both in foul trouble and constantly doubled in the post, she finished with only 4 points. In her stead, senior guard Coco Miller showed off her playmaking ability, scoring 24 points and draining 7 crucial 3-pointers. Even in a sloppy offensive performance — one in which the team scored a mere 52 points on 38.3% shooting — UCSB proved on Saturday that it could grind its way to a win if needed.
This week, the Gauchos will need to combine that grit with a solid offensive performance if they hope to finish the week with two victories. Despite their overall 6-9 record, the ‘Chos have yet to win on the road this season, losing their first five away games. Last year, UCSB finished the season with a less-than-impressive 1-13 record on the road.
On Thursday, Santa Barbara will look to pick up its first road victory of the season in a matchup against UC Irvine (UCI).
Irvine entered the season with high expectations, but those expectations have since been tempered due to an injury to star senior guard Jordan Sanders. After leading the Anteaters in scoring last season, Sanders has only suited up for seven games this season. Shortly after Sanders’ injury earlier this year, UCI lost eight straight games — a streak only recently ended in their matchup against Westcliff University.
Still, the Anteaters pose a threat to Santa Barbara, especially in front of their home crowd. Senior guard Lauren Saiki leads the charge for the undermanned squad, averaging 11.7 points per game. However, with UCI desperately searching for offense in Sanders’ absence, the team has arguably leaned too heavily on Saiki, who is shooting a mere 32% from the floor.
Perhaps the biggest concern for UCI will be who can match up with Lane underneath. On average, Irvine has been out-rebounded by almost 6 rebounds per game this season. The injury to Sanders — who led the team in rebounding at the time of her injury — has only exacerbated that problem.
With the Anteaters likely to double Lane in the post, look for junior guard Danae Miller and Coco Miller to exploit the extra space on the perimeter.
After their Thursday matchup, UCSB will have to quickly regroup before its Saturday matchup against UC Riverside (UCR).
Riverside slumped during much of non-conference play, finishing with a 4-10 record, but took care of business last Thursday in their 75-70 victory over UC Davis. In that game, senior guard Jannon Otto dominated, dropping 26 points on only 15 field goal attempts.
Despite their success on Thursday, the Highlanders have in large part struggled on the offensive end this season, averaging only 57.1 points per game. Much of that comes down to their inability to take care of the ball, with the team giving the ball away more than 20 times per game.
Unlike Irvine, UCR has the potential to keep Lane off the glass for the Gauchos. Senior forward Marina Ewodo grabs 7.2 boards per game, and Otto actually paces the team with 7.6 rebounds per game. With the Highlanders actually out rebounding opponents this season by 2.7 rebounds per game, there will be a far smaller margin for error for the Gauchos on offense.
The Gauchos will take on Irvine Thursday at 7 p.m., before traveling down to Riverside and matching up with the Highlanders on Saturday at 7 p.m.