Feb. 28, 2006
Game 26 Thursday, March 2, 2006 7:00 p.m. Santa Barbara, CA
UC Santa Barbara vs. Pacific The Thunderdome (6,000)
Game 27 Saturday, March 4, 2006 2:00 p.m. Santa Barbara, CA
UC Santa Barbara vs. Cal State Northridge The Thunderdome (6,000)
2005-06 Gaucho Record
13-12 overall/8-4 Big West Conference
8-3 home/5-9 away/0-0 neutral
Gauchos Enter March Just 2-4 Over Last Six Games
The UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team plays its final two regular season games this week at home, where it hopes to secure at least a share of its unprecedented 11th consecutive Big West Conference regular season title. Up first is a Thursday, March 2 showdown with Pacific (6-19 overall, 3-8 Big West), slated for 7:00 p.m. in the Thunderdome. Two days later, the Gauchos close out their 2005-06 home slate against Cal State Northridge (8-17, 5-7 entering this week). UCSB seniors Karena Bonds and Autumn Nichols will be honored in a special ceremony prior to Saturday's tip-off. Santa Barbara enters this week a half-game behind Long Beach State (9-4) in the league standings, however the 49ers play just one more conference contest. UCSB can clinch one of the top-two seeds in next week's Big West Tournament with one more victory.
Gauchos on the Air and Web
Both of this week's games will be broadcast live by Clear Channel of Santa Barbara with "Showtime" Steve Wendt handling play-by-play duties and Kristen "Snowflake" Koch providing color commentary. The UCSB-UOP clash will air on KTMS 990AM, while Saturday's regular season finale can be heard on KIST 1340AM. Both 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 Splits on Road Trip to Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside
Playing their final two regular season road games last week, the Gauchos experienced the high of a one-point victory followed by the low of a narrow loss and being knocked off the inside track for an outright Big West title. On Thursday, Feb. 23, UCSB rallied from a five-point second-half deficit at Cal State Fullerton and then needed a steal and layup by freshman LaShay Fears within the final 10 seconds to secure a 79-78 win. Santa Barbara cranked up a season-high 75 shots en route to its 25th consecutive triumph over the Titans since 1996. That victory coupled with a Long Beach State loss on Thursday vaulted the Gauchos to the top of the conference standings, however they fell right back into second place following a 48-45 loss at UC Riverside on Saturday afternoon. After trailing 25-18 at intermission UCSB fought back and led 45-44 thanks to Ana Onaindia's three-pointer with 1:13 remaining, but UCR's Seryam Gbewonyo answered right back with a driving layup and the Highlanders would not trail again.
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. UCSB can win the league by no more than one game in 2005-06.
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 393-176 (.691) and an overall mark of 491-290 (.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 #34 Autumn Nichols Sr. F 14 points, 10 boards at CSUF for first career double-double #33 Jenna Green So. C Double-digit scorer in 20 different games this season #5 Jessica Wilson So. G Has misfired on her last 25 three-point attempts #32 Karena Bonds Sr. G Ranks among the Big West's top-10 in three categories #40 LaShay Fears Fr. G Has started all but one game as a true freshman
#2 Whitney Warren Fr. G/F Four points, four rebounds in each of last two games #10 Kim Smith Fr. G Has not taken the court in any of the past three games #22 Erin O'Bryan Jr. G Shooting just 16.2% (six-of-37) over her previous nine games #23 Ana Onaindia So. G Has five of UCSB's eight three-pointers during last three games #35 Shantel Thomas Fr. F Has played just 11 total minutes over last three games #42 Kat Suderman So. F/C 6.4 rebounds per game are seventh-most in Big West
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.
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 six games, connecting at just a 34.4% clip (127-of-369) including a woeful 16-of-102 performance (15.7%) from three-point land. Only one UCSB player is currently making greater than half of her shots, contributing to a 63.1 points per game average that is a over eight points lower than last year.
During its run of 10 straight Big West titles since 1995-95, UCSB posted an average victory margin of +18.5 points per conference game, with a double-digit cushion every year including a school-best +25.5 cushion during an undefeated run to the 1998-99 league crown. However if the Gauchos do capture at least a share of another title, it will be by the slimmest of margins. Santa Barbara has outscored its 12 Big West opponents by an average of just +2.9 points, with five of those games being decided by five points or fewer. UCSB has actually fared quite well in those conference nail-biters, winning four straight before falling 48-45 at UC Riverside last Saturday.
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. 14 Stanford, 16th-ranked BYU and No. 17 Michigan State 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.
After enduring a coaching chance in December, Pacific has struggled in Big West play and is currently last in the eight-team league. Most recently, the Tigers fell 80-59 at Cal State Northridge on Saturday, Feb. 25 in their lone game last week. At 13.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, senior forward Carolina Ruiz leads the UOP attack, and tallied 17 points and 15 boards in a narrow 64-62 home loss to the Gauchos on Jan. 28. UCSB needed a trio of free-throws in the final 1:04 to pull ahead and secure its seventh straight win over Pacific. Santa Barbara now leads the all-time series 39-14.
On the heels of a recent seven-game slide, Cal State Northridge has won three straight including a 77-62 upset at first-place Long Beach State on Thursday, Feb. 23. The Matadors feature a balanced scoring attach led by juniors LaJoyce King and Jamie McCaa at 11.8 and 11.5 points per game, respectively. They each tallied 12 points on Jan. 26 as the Gauchos escaped the Matadome with a 54-51 win and saw McCaa's potential game-tying shot draw iron as time expired. UCSB can boast 15 straight wins over CSUN - including all 10 meetings as Big West rivals - and holds a 25-10 advantage in the all-time series. Northridge plays at Cal Poly on Thursday before visiting the Thunderdome.
After foul calls and an errant elbow derailed Jenna Green for a trio of games, the UCSB sophomore center has returned with a vengeance over the past three contests, leading the Gauchos in scoring each time including 19 points during the hard-fought win over Cal State Fullerton. Green has been the most consistent Gaucho in 2005-06, pacing the Santa Barbara offense on 13 different occasions and scoring in double-figures 20 times, including 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 50.7% is second-best while her scoring (14.5), rebounding (7.0) and blocks (1.17) per game averages rank third, fourth and seventh, respectively. Green is the only Gaucho currently making over half her field goal tries, however she remains 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 left 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. However, consistency hasn't been Wilson's strong suit recently as she is mired in a 29-for-104 (27.9%) shooting slump over the past nine games during which she has missed her last 25 three-point attempts. Wilson's offensive woes haven't stopped her from becoming one of the league's best defenders, with a 2.33 steals per game average that ranks third and was bolstered by seven swipes at CSUN on Jan. 26, most by a Gaucho since Erin Buescher nabbed nine on Jan. 17, 1999. Wilson also owns a rebounding average of 6.7 that is seventh-best in the conference. She 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.
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 (78.8%), seventh in steals (1.64) and ninth in minutes played (30.7). She has proven to be the Gauchos' best ball-handler with a 1.45 assist-to-turnover ratio (55 vs. 38), and has enjoyed five of the seven-highest scoring efforts of her career in Big West play. 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 personal best 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, but she has had a renewed spring in her step recently. Nichols contributed 10 points and eight boards to the hard-fought win over Long Beach State, and then produced her first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds at Cal State Fullerton.
Kat in the Hat
With Santa Barbara razor-thin at the post in recent weeks, sophomore post player Kat Suderman averaged a whopping 30.6 minutes while starting seven straight contests, and may now be feeling fatigued as evidenced by her averages of 3.3 points and 19.0% shooting (four-of-21) over the last three outings. The San Luis Obispo, Calif., native has done her greatest damage to opponents this season while coming off the bench, amassing her second career double-double on Jan. 9 at UC Irvine 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 seventh-best in the Big West.
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 will look to defend their nine straight Big West Tournament titles when the annual league event heats up in Anaheim, Calif., from March 8-11. With just one win this week, UCSB can clinch a top-two seed in the tourney, giving it a pair of byes before playing in the semifinal round on Friday, March 10 in the Anaheim Convention Center. The Big West tourney champion receives an automatic berth into the 64-team NCAA Tournament.