June 16, 2006
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Nine games against schools that participated in last season's NCAA Tournament - including the reigning national champion - highlight the 2006-07 schedule for the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team.
The 11-time defending Big West Conference champion Gauchos have lined up arguably the most enticing home schedule in program history, featuring nine non-conference contests in the Thunderdome, four of those against 2006 Big Dance qualifiers.
Following an exhibition game against Cal Poly Pomona and the season opener Nov. 10 vs. Portland State - both in the Thunderdome - UCSB travels to defending Pacific-10 Conference Tournament champion UCLA for a Nov. 12 showdown. Santa Barbara rallied to defeat the Bruins 90-81 in an overtime thriller last season.
Another Pac-10 opponent, Oregon, will commence a three-game homestand for the Gauchos, who then face Louisville on Nov. 24 and North Carolina State two days later in a post-Thanksgiving feast for area hoops fans. Both the Cardinals and Wolfpack advanced to the NCAA tourney a year ago.
The marquee game on UCSB's schedule occurs Dec. 2 when the Gauchos travel to 2006 national champion Maryland, which returns all five starters from its magical tournament run. It marks just the second time in school history that Santa Barbara will play a regular season contest against the defending NCAA titlist. UCSB's only out-of-state road trip of the 2006-07 campaign concludes Dec. 4 at Richmond.
After returning home for games against Weber State and Loyola Marymount (Dec. 7-9), the Gauchos play a Dec. 18 contest at Pepperdine, the reigning West Coast Conference Tournament champ and a surprise Big Dance qualifier last year. Michigan State - the 2005 NCAA runner-up and a Sweet 16 participant last season - then invades the Thunderdome for a Dec. 20 clash that concludes Santa Barbara's pre-conference slate.
Big West play begins on Dec. 28 at UC Riverside, the team that ended UCSB's run of nine straight league tournament titles in 2006, thus earning an automatic NCAA Tournament berth. The Gauchos' first conference home game is Jan. 4 against Long Beach State, which shared the Big West regular season crown last year. Santa Barbara faces each of its seven league opponents twice, once in the Thunderdome and again on the road. The Big West Tournament is scheduled for March 7-10, and will be held in Anaheim, Calif., for the seventh straight year.
UCSB will take three breaks from conference play, on Jan. 13 and Feb. 3 to battle future Big West member UC Davis and on Feb. 1 against defending Pac-10 regular season champion Stanford. The Cardinal - who have reached the NCAA Elite Eight each of the past three seasons - are making their first visit to Santa Barbara since the 1984-85 campaign. The Gauchos are looking to add one more contest to round out their 2006-07 non-conference slate.
"This may be the best home schedule we've ever put together. What a treat for local fans to see some great teams - and legendary coaches such as Kay Yow and Tara VanDerveer - compete in the Thunderdome," UCSB head coach Mark French said. "Hosting Stanford will be the gem of our home schedule, and of course playing the defending national champs on their home court will present a sizeable challenge."
In 2005-06 the Gauchos posted a 16-14 overall record and 10-4 Big West mark to earn a share of their unprecedented 11th consecutive league regular season title. Santa Barbara made its 11th straight postseason appearance, advancing to the preliminary round of the Postseason Women's National Invitation Tournament. In 2006-07, UCSB will feature eight returning letterwinners - including a pair of all-conference performers - as well as four true freshmen, one Division I transfer, and one player rejoining the program following a year-long absence.