High-energy duo sparks UCSB

March 13, 2009

By ALEX PAVLOVIC NEWSPRESS STAFF WRITER

March 13, 2009 10:47 AM

Neither Jordan Franey nor Margaret Johnson lead the Gauchos in any statistical category, but don't make the mistake of thinking that the two forwards aren't making a huge impact.

Whether it's on opponents, the court or the win column, both players make their mark every single game, and without them, it's hard to imagine that UCSB would be the top seed in this week's Big West Tournament.

Stars may get all the attention, but you don't win championships without excellent role players, and in Franey and Johnson, first-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb has a bruising duo that will do anything it takes to pull out a win.

"They'll run through a brick wall for me and for the team if I ask them to," Gottlieb said. "They've bought into a role and said 'What do I need to do to help us be successful?' and they both bring us unbelievable energy. Margaret sort of starts the engine for us with her energy level at the beginning, and to have someone like Jordan with that sort of energy come off the bench is a luxury."

Neither player is asked to score much, but in an offense that relies on Jenna Green in the post and Lauren Pedersen on the perimeter, Franey and Johnson often do the dirty work to get their teammates good looks.

Franey takes her role as a facilitator so seriously that she's dubbed herself "the dynamic screener."

"It's a part of the game that just comes so easy and it's not anything that I have to work on," said Franey, who counts the number of screens that she sets during each play in practice. "I have to work on my shot and skills, but not on playing hard and setting screens."

Franey, whom Gottlieb calls the "best scoring small forward in the league," has grown accustomed to clearing out space for her teammates, but she's dangerous when given the opportunity to shoot. The 2007 Big West Freshman of the year reached double-figures in six straight games in January, a stretch during which she averaged over 11 points.

The junior from San Diego averaged 6.6 points on the season, primarily on putbacks, hard cuts to the basket and mid-range jumpers, a skill set that is different than anything else the Gauchos feature.

"She's such a threat because she can pop off a screen or roll to the basket," senior Whitney Warren said. "She cuts harder than anyone so she ends up open a lot and hits those jumpers."

On a team that starts four seniors, Franey has accepted her role as one of the first players off the bench, and was rewarded this week by being the only reserve to be named to the All-Conference team. Franey, who made the honorable mention list, took joy in the fact that she helped Green secure a spot on the first team.

"I always look to pass first, especially into Jenna, so I told her that I live vicariously through her," Franey said. "Basically any time she scores, I score, which means I score a lot."

When Franey enters the game, she's often replacing Johnson. The sophomore from Lake Oswego, Ore., hit double-figures in scoring three times and she's shooting nearly 53 percent from the field.

Johnson has flashed a variety of post moves and a pretty baseline jumper, but her biggest offensive impact comes from keeping opposing defenders from doubling Green.

It's hard to miss Johnson calling for the ball in the high post, but despite the fact that she rarely ends up with a shot, she enjoys her battles for position.

"I wish I was five inches taller, but that's fun for me to battle in post," she said. "It makes me feel good when I'm working harder than somebody else, and it makes me happy to see other people get theirs."

Johnson works just as hard on the defensive end, where she's helped turn the Gauchos into one of the toughest teams in the country to score against. Warren, the 2008 Big West Defensive Player of the Year, learned just how tough it is to get past Johnson in practice.

"I was trying to drive past her and I couldn't get to where I wanted to go, but I was like 'Man, I'm really glad I'm not going against that in games,' " she said.

Gottlieb knows that Franey and Johnson make contributions that go beyond the box score, but she's still come up with a unique way to measure the statistics that everyone focuses on.

"They tend to combine for a double-double," she said. "If I was playing one of them close to 40 minutes a game I would expect a double-double, but collectively I think we usually get near a double-double from that spot.

"There's no question that each of them has that ability."

Combined, Franey and Johnson average 10.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 39.5 minutes per game, but there's one area where they put up far bigger numbers. Whether they're taking a charge, setting a screen or going after a loose ball, there aren't many players who hit the hardwood as often.

It's just another way to contribute for two of the most physical players in the league. Doing all the little things comes at a price however, as the two forwards aren't exactly favorites around the league.

"I'm pretty sure I'm not the most liked player in the league, but that's something I'm proud of," Franey said. "I'm not here to be liked, I'm here to win games and to win championships. I feel that that's something that I've been able to contribute to my team.

"They like me, so that's all that matters."

e-mail: apavlovic@newspress.com