Spencer gives Gauchos a different dimension

Jan. 10, 2009

By ALEX PAVLOVIC,
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

January 8, 2009 7:50 AM

At Big West media day in October, nearly every coach in the conference made note of the fact that the rich would get even richer when Jenna Green returned to the court for defending league champion UCSB.

Green's addition has been huge, but lost in the shuffle was a transfer who may end up being the wild card in Santa Barbara's quest for a repeat. Noone outside of the program really knew what to expect from Christine Spencer, but after just six games in the blue and gold, it's clear that the former Wisconsin Badger will play a huge role in any success the Gauchos achieve this season.

Standing over six feet tall, Spencer has the length and versatility to play a crucial role for the Gauchos off the bench. Her shooting helps stretch the floor, but more importantly she gives UCSB a mismatch in a conference that doesn't have a lot of big perimeter players.

Spencer has taken advantage of the size disparity to score 18 points and pull down 16 boards over the last three games.

"[The Big West] is a lot different because you don't have those huge Big 10 post players," Spencer said of the transition. "I get my hands on a lot more balls, but I need to work on just ripping the ball. I just try to crash every time and use my height advantage on the perimeter."

Spencer had to sit out until a mid-December game against Pepperdine in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, but she has quickly become a valued member of the rotation, breaking the 20-minute mark in each of UCSB's victories last weekend.

"It's such a luxary to have people come off the bench that have that type of effort level and attention to detail," head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. "When you add that into the mix, everyone else raises their effort level too."

The junior viewed the year off as a chance to develop different parts of her game, especially on the defensive end.

"I don't like watching games, but at the same time it made me get better on things that I needed to improve on while still being in a competitive practice setting," Spencer said. "I think really focusing on [defense] made me ready in all aspects of the game when I was eligible."

The Michigan native fits into UCSB's on-court plans perfectly, but there was a time when a move to Santa Barbara didn't appear to be part of her future. After leaving the Badgers, Spencer was looking for her next location when Wisconsin guard coach Tasha McDowell, a former UCSB assistant, suggested she check out the Gauchos. The rest, as they say, is history.

"Someone else asked me 'how did you choose UCSB,' and what I said was that it's easy to choose UCSB, it was finding it that was hard," Spencer said. "I visited a lot of places but as soon as I got here and met the team and saw the program, I knew that this was where I wanted to be."

Tonight's Opponent

The Gauchos (6-6, 2-0) take on UC Irvine (3-11, 0-1), a team that hasn't beaten them in almost three years. Junior guard Rebecca Maessen is the Anteater to watch, as she averages a team-high 12.8 points per game, and shoots a league-best 50 percent from beyond the arc. UCI is coming off a blowout in the Big West opener, where it lost to Cal State Fullerton 76-43.

Stat of the Week

If you want a good barometer for UCSB's success, keep an eye on the other team's 3-point shooting percentage. The Gauchos are 5-1 this season when they hold their opponent under 25 percent from beyond the arc, and they've allowed only eight makes in 49 opponent 3-point attempts during their current three-game winning streak.

Milestone Watch

After scoring 37 points over the weekend, Lauren Pedersen sits just 23 points away from 500 for her career. The senior averages 12.8 points per game so she should reach the mark this weekend, although with the way she's been shooting the ball recently, don't be surprised if she scores number 500 tonight.

Around the Big West

2007 Big West champ UC Riverside and 2008 runner-up UC Davis face off tonight in Riverside in the big matchup of the weekend. Paige Minton leads the Aggies in points, rebounds and assists, and she's coming off a 25-point outburst in Davis' win last week over Cal State Northridge.