UCSB Hits the Road for ESPN3 Matchups at UC Irvine, UC Riverside

Danae Miller (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Danae Miller (Photo by Tony Mastres)

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The Schedule
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara (4-14, 1-4) vs. UC Irvine (13-4, 3-2)
Bren Events Center – Irvine, Calif.
All-Time Record vs. the Anteaters: 65-31
Last Meeting: W, 82-55 @ UCSB (2/17/18)
 
Saturday, Feb. 2, 2018 at 2:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara (4-14, 1-4) vs. UC Riverside (8-11, 2-3)
SRC Arena – Riverside, Calif.
All-Time Record vs. the Highlanders: 26-22
Last Meeting: W, 72-70 @ UCSB (2/24/18)
 
Off Nights On Offense
UC Santa Barbara's outside shooting struggles continued in losses to Cal State Fullerton, 59-52, and Hawaii, 47-35, last week. Against the Titans on Thursday, the Gauchos were able to remain within striking distance into the fourth quarter, cutting a double-digit deficit to five points in the final minute. Despite a game-high 18-point performance from Natalia Bruening, a slow start to the night proved too much to overcome. Two days later, UCSB would hold Hawaii to just 34.8 percent from the field, but the Gauchos recorded season-lows of 23.5 percent shooting and 35 points as their offense never quite got on track.
 
Big West Picture
After going 1-2 during their home stand, the Gauchos (4-14, 1-4) currently have the eighth-best record in the Big West, a half game ahead of Cal Poly for the No. 9 spot and just one game back from UC Riverside and Long Beach State for No. 6. UC Davis (13-6, 5-1) remains in first place.
 
Back On The Road
UCSB returns to the road for a pair of ESPN3 games this week at UC Irvine (Thursday) and UC Riverside (Saturday). The Anteaters currently own the best overall record in the Big West at 13-4 overall, 3-2 conference. They also possess the highest scoring offense in the conference, averaging 74.1 points per game led by sophomore forward Jordan Sanders, who sits second in the Big West at 19.7 points on 49 percent shooting.
 
The Highlanders enter the week winners in two of their last three. Despite slightly edging out UCSB for the second-lowest three-point percentage in the conference, UCR actually ranks third in points per game (64.2), thanks to their effectiveness inside the arc, their Big West-leading assist numbers (15.8 apg), and their efficiency at the free throw line, where they have the highest percentage (83.8%) since the start of league play. Guard Jannon Otto leads the Highlanders in scoring at 13.7 points per game, while reigning Big West Player of the Week forward Marina Ewodo comes in at 12.0 points on a team-high 49 percent from the field.
 
It's Miller Time
Since going on the most prolific five-game stretch of her career offensively in which she scored at least 20 points four times in five games, redshirt junior guard Coco Miller has gone cold. She failed to make a shot for the first time all season against Hawaii, and over her last three games, she has made just 1-of-15 (6.7%) three-point attempts and 6-of-38 (15.8%) overall for an average of 8.3 points a night. Even still, she is averaging career-highs this year in practically every category: points (13.5), assists (2.7), steals (1.9), minutes (34.6) and three-point percentage (31.7%). It has become clear that, if Miller is on, UCSB has a chance to win – she is averaging 20.8 points in wins, compared to 11.4 in losses. Her 2.1 three-pointers per game rank second in the conference, while her 149 career triples put her at No. 6 all-time in the UCSB record book.
 
Increased Aggression
Sophomore point guard Danae Miller had a pair of career-long streaks snapped last week, seeing a nine-game run with at least four assists and a six-game run of 11 or more points come to an end. After seven straight single-digit scoring performances to start her sophomore season though, the second year point guard knew she had to be more aggressive, and it has shown. Miller has 15 or more points in five of her last seven, the only exception being a 12-point, 7-rebound, 4-assist and 2-steal effort at Cal Poly. During conference play, she ranks 10th in points (12.0), ninth in triples (1.6), seventh in assists (3.6) and ninth in rebounds (6.0).
 
Paint Producer
Natalia Bruening is the Gauchos' leading scorer since the start of conference play, ranking fifth in the Big West at 14.0 points per game despite averaging just 25.2 minutes. Foul trouble has been an issue for the junior center out of Newport Beach, Calif., and her rebound numbers have dipped to just 4.6 per game in January, but her offense has gotten back on track when UCSB has needed it. Coming off her team-leading fourth double-double of the season against Hawaii (13 points, 11 rebounds), Bruening is averaging just under 16 points a game over her last three on 65.5 percent from the field. For the year, her 53.6 percent shooting clip ranks second in the conference.
 
Anugwom Making An Impact
In her first season as a Gaucho, sophomore guard Bri Anugwom has been a key role player, coming in fourth on the team in scoring (8.7 ppg) and maintaining the highest free throw percentage (.875) in the conference. The former West Los Angeles CC standout has struggled offensively over the last month and a half though, scoring in double-figures and shooting higher than 33.3 percent from the field just once in her last nine games. However, she has found other ways to contribute, especially on the glass, where she is averaging 8.0 rebounds per game during conference play, good for third in the Big West.
 
Three-Point Shooting Woes
UCSB has gone ice cold from three-point range, shooting a league-worst 20.6 percent as a team in 2019. The Gauchos have attempted at least 15 threes in every game this season, but over the last three, they've shot just 8.2 percent (4-49 3FG) from deep. The team had been enjoying an upward trend in its three-point shooting each year under Bonnie Henrickson, going from 29.8 percent in 2015-16, to 34.2 and 35.2 percent in the two following years, but that has dropped to 24.9 percent in 2018-19. Surprisingly, the outside shooting issues have been more noticeable at home, where UCSB has shot 19.7 percent from range, compared to 29.5 percent away from the Thunderdome.
 
Get On The Glass!
Against Hawaii this past Saturday, the Gauchos outrebounded their opponent in a loss for the second time this season. In the six games which UCSB has outrebounded its opponents, the Gauchos boast a 4-2 record. They are averaging a +14.8 rebounding margin in their four wins this year, but are being outrebounded by an average of 8.9 boards per game in losses.
 
New Talent
The 2018-19 Gauchos feature an overhauled roster with seven new faces, including four freshmen: forward Megan Ormiston (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley HS) and guards DeLauna Thomas (Gardena, Calif./Serra HS), Lauren Lee (River Forest, Ill./Trinity HS) and Kiana Vierra (Honolulu, Hawaii/Kamehameha-Kapalama School). Redshirt senior guard Paris Jones also joins the team after four seasons at LIU Brooklyn, where she averaged 4.4 points and 1.1 assists in 62 games. Sophomore Bri Anugwom gets her first taste of Division I basketball after a freshman year at West Los Angeles CC where she averaged 20.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 46.8 percent from the field. Rounding out the newcomers is junior guard/forward Celeste Salazar, who comes to UCSB after averaging 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds last season at Ventura College.