Gauchos Head South for Final Regular Season Road Games
Feb. 21, 2006
Game 24 Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006 7:00 p.m. Fullerton, CA
UC Santa Barbara at Cal State Fullerton Titan Gym (4,000)
Game 25 Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006 4:00 p.m. Riverside, CA
UC Santa Barbara at UC Riverside Student Recreation Center (3,168)
2005-06 Gaucho Record
12-11 overall/7-3 Big West Conference
8-3 home/4-8 away/0-0 neutral
Gauchos Have Won Last 33 Games Against this Week's Opponents
The Big West Conference race has entered the home stretch, and if the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team wants to make a run at an 11th-straight league title it will need to win a pair of important road games this week. Up first is a Thursday, Feb. 23 clash with Cal State Fullerton (9-15 overall, 6-6 Big West). Tip-off is slated for 7:00 p.m. in Titan Gym. Two days later, the Gauchos will find themselves in UC Riverside's Student Recreation Center for their final road game of 2005-06, a 4:00 p.m. showdown with the Highlanders (10-14, 6-7 entering this week). UCSB - which has won its last 24 games against Fullerton and past nine vs. UCR - enters the week one full game behind Long Beach State in the conference standings and can secure at least second place with two more victories.
Gauchos on the Air and Web
Both of this week's games will air live on KTMS 990AM with "Showtime" Steve Wendt handling play-by-play duties and Ben Alkaly attempting color commentary. Their broadcasts begin 15 minutes prior to tip-off with the "Gaucho Pregame Show", and can also be accessed by pointing your browser to www.ucsbgauchos.com and purchasing the "All-Access Pass". In addition, live video streaming of both contests is available via a subscription service at www.bigwest.org/tv.
UCSB Rebounds from Three-Game Skid with Critical Win over Long Beach State
Last week in the Thunderdome the Gauchos experienced one of their most disappointing defeats this season followed by arguably their most hard-fought victory of 2005-06. On Thursday, Feb. 16, visiting UC Irvine opened the second half on a 20-7 run and shot 55.9% after intermission en route to an 82-69 victory over UCSB. Santa Barbara surrendered a 37-35 halftime lead while losing for a third straight time, and also saw its 10-game winning streak over UCI halted. Two days later the Gauchos played the first regionally-televised regular season home game in program history, putting on a defensive show for Fox Sports Net West 2's cameras which resulted in a 46-43 win over Big West-leading Long Beach State. UCSB led wire to-wire - holding a 30-20 advantage at intermission - but allowed the 49ers to crawl back by connecting at just 24.1% in the second half. After the visitors pulled within 44-43 with just over two minutes remaining, Jenna Green answered with a layup before LBSU's Fernanda Santos misfired on a three-point try in the final seconds. Santa Barbara sophomore Jessica Wilson corralled the rebound as the clock expired and her teammates celebrated after avenging a January loss to the Beach, which has not won in the Thunderdome since 1991. It marked the fewest points surrendered by UCSB this season, and lowest combined score in a Gaucho game since they topped UC Irvine 48-33 on Jan. 6, 1990.
Santa Barbara's decade-long dominance of the Big West ranks as the longest current streak of outright conference championships in the entire nation. Louisiana Tech has captured 13 straight league titles - split between the Sun Belt and Western Athletic Conferences - but has shared top honors with other schools three times during its run. Meanwhile the Gauchos have never finished fewer than two games ahead of the pack, posting a 158-12 (.929) league record since 1995-96.
UC Santa Barbara alumnus Mark French is in his 19th season as head coach of the Gauchos and the 27th year of his immensely successful career. He currently owns a UCSB record of 392-175 (.691) and an overall mark of 490-289 (.629). Since the 1991-92 campaign, a period spanning 14 years, French's Gauchos have won 11 Big West Conference titles and advanced to 11 NCAA Tournaments - including five second rounds and a Sweet 16 appearance - as well as one Postseason WNIT. Individually, French has earned an unprecedented seven Big West Coach of the Year honors, while in 2002-03 he was named WBCA District 8 Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award. He is the dean of Big West coaches, with nine more years of experience in the league than any of his current counterparts.
Probable Starters Notes #42 Kat Suderman So. F/C 6.5 boards per game are tied with Wilson for fifth in Big West #33 Jenna Green So. C Team-high 16 points vs. LBSU after missing previous game #5 Jessica Wilson So. G 19 points led all Gauchos in losing effort vs. UCI #32 Karena Bonds Sr. G Averaging 12.8 points over last six contests #40 LaShay Fears Fr. G Has started all but one game as a true freshman
Reserves Notes #2 Whitney Warren Fr. G/F Career-high three assists, three steals in win over LBSU #10 Kim Smith Fr. G Buried first career three-pointer at Stanford on Feb. 9 #22 Erin O'Bryan Jr. G Shooting just 12.9% (four-of-31) over her last seven games #23 Ana Onaindia So. G Sunk four-of-eight three-pointers in Feb. 4 win at Cal Poly #34 Autumn Nichols Sr. F 10 points vs. 49ers was her highest total since Jan. 4 #35 Shantel Thomas Fr. F Returned Sat. from three-game absence due to ankle injury
The Gauchos opened 2005-06 receiving votes in both the ESPN/USA Today Top-25 Coaches' Poll and Associated Press Writers' Poll, but have subsequently dropped out of both. Meanwhile, if Big West Conference coaches and media members are accurate prognosticators, then the Gauchos will win their unprecedented 11th consecutive regular season conference title in 2005-06. In polls conducted Nov. 2 at the league's annual media day in Irvine, Calif., six of the eight coaches picked Santa Barbara to repeat yet again, while nine of 10 media members in attendance did the same. Long Beach State was tabbed second in both polls.
Entering the home stretch of the 2005-06 campaign, one impressive Gaucho streak has already fallen, another is in serious jeopardy and the outcome of a couple more remain to be seen. By falling at UC Davis on Feb. 11, UCSB's run of 11 straight seasons with single-digit losses was snapped. Santa Barbara has also won at least 20 games in each of the past 10 years, and would need to win its remaining regular season contests and enjoy a relatively deep postseason run to keep that streak alive. If the Gauchos are to reach the NCAA Tournament for a 10th consecutive year, they will have to extend their streak of dominance at next month's Big West Tournament in Anaheim, Calif.. UCSB has won its last 25 games in league tourney competition dating back to 1997.
Where Has All the Offense Gone?
After shooting 50% or better nine times in 2004-05 the Gauchos have made half their attempts just once this season, during a Dec. 17 upset of then-No. 24 UCLA. Santa Barbara's field goal follies have been especially noticeable over the last four games, connecting at just a 31.9% clip (80-of-251) including a woeful 10-of-73 performance (13.7%) from three-point land. No UCSB player is currently making over half of her shots, contributing to a 63.8 points per game average that is a full eight points lower than last year.
Battered by the Best
While the Gauchos did score an upset win over the Bruins, they struggled mightily against their three opponents currently among the nation's top-25. No. 15 Stanford, 16th-ranked Michigan State and No. 18 BYU outscored and out-rebounded Santa Barbara by averages of 32.7 points and +17.6 boards, respectively, while collectively limiting UCSB to 28.1% shooting (47-of-167). The Gauchos' largest lead in any of those three games was three points in the opening minutes at BYU, while Stanford's 34-point triumph was UCSB's widest margin of defeat since falling 78-33 at UNLV on Feb. 17, 1990.
Cal State Fullerton followed up a recent three-game winning streak with consecutive losses at Pacific and Cal State Northridge last week, and currently hold down fourth place in the Big West standings. Junior forward Charlee Underwood - who leads a balanced Titan attack at 12.2 points per contest - scored 13 in the Thunderdome on Jan. 4 as UCSB rallied from a four-point halftime deficit to defeat CSF 68-54. That was the Gauchos' 24th straight win over Fullerton dating back to 1996, and improved their record in the all-time series to 31-21.
UC Riverside enters its Thursday showdown with Cal Poly on a three-game winning streak, the last coming on a buzzer-beating three-pointer Saturday at Pacific. The Highlanders have gotten a boost from the return of sophomore post player Kemie Nkele - whose 15.0 points per game rank second in the Big West - and are currently fifth in the conference standings. Nursing a broken hand, Nkele missed a Jan. 2 showdown with the Gauchos in the Thunderdome which was won by the home team 73-48. Santa Barbara has not lost to UCR since the Highlanders joined the Big West in 2001-02 and leads the all-time series 14-6.
After foul calls and an errant elbow derailed Jenna Green for three games, the UCSB sophomore center returned with a vengeance in the win over Long Beach State, leading all Gauchos with 16 points for her 18th double-digit scoring effort of the season. As evidenced by that stat, Green has been the most consistent Gaucho in 2005-06, pacing the Santa Barbara offense on 11 different occasions and recording a quartet of double-doubles. The San Jose, Calif., native barely missed a double-dip with 17 points and nine boards in a Dec. 30 win over Pepperdine, leading to her first career Big West Player of the Week award. She ranks among the top-five conference players in four major statistical categories, validating her selection to the Preseason All-Big West Team. Green's field goal percentage of 49.8% is second-best while her scoring (14.2), rebounding (7.3) and blocks (1.27) per game averages rank third, fourth and fifth, respectively. After shooting just 30.6% (11-of-36) over her last three outings, Green's field goal mark has dipped under 50% for the first time all season, and is well below the 53.3% clip she posted en route to earning Big West All-Freshman honors in 2003-04. She missed nearly all of last year with a knee injury.
If the Gauchos are to make a run at an 11th straight Big West title, they'll need a second consistent scoring option behind Green, and the most likely candidate appears to be sophomore Jessica Wilson. The Sacramento, Calif., native has exploded for 20-plus points three times most on the team - and has amassed double-figures on five other occasions. She broke out of a three-for-19 shooting slump with a game-high-tying 19 points last Thursday, but it was in a losing effort vs. UC Irvine. Meanwhile on Jan. 26 at Cal State Northridge she amassed 15 points and seven steals, the most swipes by a Gaucho since Erin Buescher nabbed nine on Jan. 17, 1999. She is tied for the conference in steals at 2.33 per tilt, and also owns a rebounding average of 6.5 that is sixth-best. Wilson earned Big West Player of the Week honors following her heroics against then-24th-ranked UCLA, which included a game-tying buzzer-beating basket to force overtime and 11 points during the extra frame.
Kat in the Hat
With Santa Barbara razor-thin at the post in recent weeks, sophomore post player Kat Suderman has been one the most active Gaucho, averaging a whopping 30.6 minutes while starting each of the last seven contests. She tallied 13 points and nine boards in the loss to Irvine, however the San Luis Obispo, Calif., native has done her greatest damage to opponents this season while coming off the bench. On Jan. 9 at UC Irvine, she amassed her second career double-double in the form of a personal best 17 points and 13 boards, a rebounding total that equals the most by any Gaucho thus far in 2005-06. Suderman - who has scored in double-digits seven times this year - currently owns a 6.5 rebounds per game average that is tied with Wilson for fifth-best in the Big West.
Bonds, Karena Bonds
UCSB fifth-year senior guard Karena Bonds has been a jack-of-all trades, ranking fourth in the Big West in free-throw percentage (78.1%), seventh in steals (1.70) and ninth in minutes played (30.8). She has proven to be the Gauchos' best ball-handler with a 1.39 assist-to-turnover ratio (50 vs. 35), and added the title of "dynamic scorer" to her resume on UCSB's recent road trip by averaging 12.8 points over the last four games. The Morro Bay, Calif., native amassed 18 points on Jan. 28 at Pacific - the last on a free-throw in the final seconds to ice the narrow victory - and then poured in a career-high 20 at UC Davis on Feb. 11. Bonds was also clutch on Feb. 4 at Cal Poly by scoring the go-ahead three-pointer with 3:24 remaining.
Nichols and Dimes
Prior to last weekend, 2006 hadn't exactly been a great year for Autumn Nichols. Playing through various aches and pains virtually all season, her ailments were only exacerbated after being hit by a car while crossing the street on Jan. 14. She returned to action following a one-game absence, but further injured her back in a Jan. 26 win at Cal State Northridge. That put the Bakersfield, Calif., native on the shelf for four more contests, and after seeing limited action vs. UCI, Nichols contributed 10 points and eight boards to the hard-fought win over Long Beach State, her highest totals in well over a month.
Waiting in the Wings
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, UCSB announced the signing of two high school seniors to National Letters of Intent. Jordan Franey, a 6-0 forward from La Mesa, Calif., and Sacramento native Meagan Williams, a 5-10 guard, will join the Gauchos as true freshmen in 2006-07. Both were named to the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Junior First Team last season, with Williams also earning Sacramento Bee 2005 Player of the Year acclaim. In 2006-07 Santa Barbara will also gain the services of a pair of junior transfers who helped Baylor capture the 2005 NCAA Championship. Emily Niemann, a 6-1 forward, scored 19 points in the national title game against Michigan State en route to Final Four All-Tournament acclaim. In her two-year BU career, the Houston native averaged 9.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and a school-record 45.1% three-point percentage. Meanwhile 5-7 guard Chisa Ononiwu began practicing with the Gauchos in January and becomes eligible to compete following fall 2006 academic quarter at UCSB. The Houston native averaged 1.3 points and 0.7 rebounds in 13 games as a Lady Bear freshman in 2004-05.
Taylor-James Leaves UCSB
On Monday, Nov. 14, head coach Mark French announced that 6-0 sophomore swing player Brittanie Taylor-James had left the Gaucho program due to personal reasons. The Evanston, Ill., native finished the fall academic quarter and is now seeking a transfer. In 2004-05 she averaged 2.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 22 games played, with a career-high of eight scored against UC Irvine on March 3.
Doozy of a Schedule
In the annual quest to make their non-conference schedule one of the toughest in the nation, the Gauchos have once again succeeded in 2005-06. UCSB played five games against teams which also reached the NCAA Tournament last year, including three straight to open the regular season. In addition to facing national runner-up Michigan State and a February showdown looms at Elite Eight participant Stanford, Santa Barbara hosted regional rivals UCLA and Pepperdine in the Thunderdome after not facing either school for more than a decade.
On the Horizon
The Gauchos return home for their final pair of regular season games next week. Pacific comes to town for a 7:00 p.m. showdown on Thursday, March 2, followed by another Big West battle against Cal State Northridge two days later at 2:00 p.m. UCSB seniors Karena Bonds and Autumn Nichols will be honored prior to tip-off vs. the Matadors.