March 21, 2009

Fire Away : Gauchos guard has no problem finding an answer for anything

March 21, 2009

By ALEX PAVLOVIC, NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

Lauren Pedersen has an answer for everything.

Asked why she's the only UCSB women's basketball player who doesn't wear warm-ups before games, she matter-of-factly points out:

"You don't wear those shirts in games, so why would you wear them while warming up?"

"I try to run out with warm-ups on because it's important for the team to look like one unit, but warming up right is also important," Pedersen said. "My teammates don't mind because they understand that our warm-ups are like dresses. It's just uncomfortable."

OK, so she's got her pregame shooting routine down, but what about the shots that count?

Questioned about her increased scoring output - from 6.1 points per game last season to a team-high 13 this season - she points out that the Gauchos needed a boost after losing last season's leading scorer to graduation.

"I don't think that I made a conscious decision to score more, but Jessica Wilson was gone so that meant that there are 12 shots a game that someone has to take, so I might as well be aggressive," Pedersen said.

But what about those nights when the 3-point sniper is off the mark? Like her 3-for-16 performance in a loss to Pacific, UCSB's only Big West blemish.

"You know I sat there and felt bad about it, but if you look at any shooter's numbers, nobody has all perfect games," she said. "You don't sit there and say, 'Oh, you're not a good shooter.' Even (Boston Celtics star) Ray Allen has off nights."

Clearly she's got the games down, but what about the postgame?

Pedersen was named Big West Tournament MVP after averaging 15.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and four assists to help lead the Gauchos to a second straight title, but instead of reveling in the biggest honor of her career, she presented the trophy to her teammates.

"It was a cool moment because I don't think I've ever won anything like that, but I also felt like it was completely inappropriate for anyone to get that trophy," she said. "It was a complete team effort. I understand that you want to recognize performances, but individual performances are never more important than a team performance."

Lauren Pedersen has an answer for everything.

Which is why it makes perfect sense that opposing teams haven't been able to find an answer for her.

The combo guard has done it all in her senior season, becoming the first Gaucho and one of three players nationwide this year to lead her team in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

When first-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb has needed her to score in big games, Pedersen came through, including 21- and 28-point performances against Big West runner-up UC Riverside, and 23 in the Big West semifinal.

When her shot isn't falling or she can't get open looks, Pedersen becomes a facilitator. She had 12 assists in a win over West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga After UCSB fell to Pacific in late February, Pedersen dished out 10 assists two nights later in a blowout of UC Davis.

The versatility came as a surprise to Gottlieb, a former Cal assistant, who remembered Pedersen as a shooter from her two seasons at UCLA.

"I knew she was good, but I didn't know how good and how complete a player she was," Gottlieb said. "She does everything for us. She had her career high against us when I was at Cal and so I had a scouting report on her as a shooter, but I was watching film when I got this job and saw that she could be a playmaker and a scorer.

"It's pretty remarkable how she fills a stat sheet."

Pedersen, who has flirted with a triple-double on several occasions, hasn't just piled up numbers on the offensive end. Her 141 defensive rebounds are far and away the most on the team, and she led the Big West with 2.3 steals per game.

Because of that versatility, Gottlieb has tried to keep her co-captain on the floor at virtually all times, but there was a time when Pedersen and UCSB didn't look like they'd ever be part of the same story.

As an All-America at Brea Olinda High School, Pedersen was recruited by every Pac-10 school except Stanford. Looking for a big school in the Pac-10, she settled on UCLA because of its academic reputation and proximity to her family.

Pedersen started 11 games as a freshman, but her playing time tailed off in her second season, and she soon realized that being a Bruin wasn't the best fit for her. As she started to look for her next program, she kept coming back to a UCLA loss at UCSB.

The Gauchos had knocked off the Bruins in overtime in December of 2005, and despite the fact that she played only seven minutes, Pedersen had a hard time forgetting her experience at the Thunderdome.

"You recognize special programs, even when you're on a different team," she said. "I remembered that atmosphere and I was like, 'Man, that just looks like a really fun team to be a part of.'"

Pedersen says that choosing her next school was the most independent thing she's ever done, and after deciding to become Gaucho, she hasn't regretted her decision.

"It was one of the most natural decisions that has ever come up in my life because I knew that I wasn't happy where I was and I didn't feel like UCLA was right for me," she said. "I got a lot of people asking me why I would make that decision to leave a school like that, but I wouldn't ever take it back."

After sitting out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, she wasted no time making her mark on the floor for the Gauchos.

Pedersen has spent her basketball career switching between point guard and shooting guard, but when then-UCSB coach Mark French put her in the starting lineup as a two-guard last season, the Gauchos took off. UCSB won 14 straight games after the position switch, and went 19-3 in games that Pedersen started.

This year Pedersen led UCSB to a second straight regular-season title and earning an All-Big West First Team nod, she experienced a moment that most players dream of.

With UCSB up by three and only 17 seconds remaining in the Big West Championship game, Pedersen, the nation's 20th best free-throw shooter (85.1 percent), stepped to the line and sealed the win.

"I won't give myself credit for anything. I do what I do, but that's one of those things that I'm proud of and I won't forget," she said.

As her basketball career nears its end, Pedersen is making plans to get her master's and wants to eventually try teaching or coaching. Whatever she's faced with next, you can be sure of one thing: she'll come up with the right answer.

email:apavlovic@newspress.com