Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 9:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara at Hawai'i (17-10, 10-4)
at The Stan Sheriff Center
Last time: L, 63-62 (2/6/16)
All-time Record vs. Rainbow Wahine: 13-25
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The Gauchos dominated in their home finale last Thursday with a 66-37 victory over UC Irvine. In holding an opponent to under 40 points for the first time this year, the team also recorded its second largest margin of victory at 29 points. The team didn't look more impressive than they did in the second quarter when they held the Anteaters to just four points, which helped them nab a 37-14 lead at halftime. UCSB then traveled to Cal Poly on Saturday where they lost 66-60 on the Mustangs' senior day. After trailing by 13 points at halftime, the Gauchos clawed their way back into contention in the fourth quarter when they cut the deficit down to two points with 58 seconds left. A key three-pointer was made by Cal Poly to push its lead back to five and the team was able to seal the win with six made free throws down the stretch.
Where We Stand
With just one game left to play before the Big West Tournament, the Gauchos find themselves in a strong position to end up with the conference's fifth seed. With UC Davis currently occupying the fourth-spot, UCSB would still be the fifth seed even if they were to win at Hawai'i and the Aggies were to lose out due to the league's tiebreakers. In the worst-case scenario, the Gauchos could drop to the sixth seed if they were to lose at UH and if Cal Poly were to upset the Rainbow Wahine on Saturday. That tiebreaker would go in the Mustangs' favor and would leave UCSB to play CSUN in the first round of the tournament. However, that is not all too bad when you consider the Gauchos have beaten the Matadors both times this year by an average of 14 points.
Around the Conference
Looking around the rest of the conference standings, UC Riverside has clinched the first seed, as they currently sport a 14-0 league record. If they were to clinch a perfect regular season record, the Highlanders would be the first time to pull off that feat since UCSB went 16-0 in the 2001-02 season. Behind UCR will likely be LBSU or Hawai'i who are both 10-4 entering this week. As for the last two spots into the postseason, CSUN (4-10) has already claimed the sixth seed, while UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton are duking it out for the eighth and final seed. If both teams were to go winless this week, they would both be 1-15 and since their one win was against the other, the tiebreaker would come down to a coin flip.
How the Playoffs Work
Since the 2013-14 season, the Big West has structured its women's basketball conference tournament to give the top two seeds automatic berths into the semifinals, which will be played at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The third and fourth seeds earn byes into the quarter finals, where they will play the winners of the first round games which position the fifth versus the eighth seed and the sixth against the seventh. This year, the first round and quarterfinals will be hosted at UC Irvine in the Bren Events Center from March. 8-9, and the tournament will later move to the Honda Center for the semifinals and finals rounds that will be played from March 11-12.
UCSB's last game with the Rainbow Wahine came down to the wire, as the Rainbow Wahine escaped the Thunderdome with a 63-62 win. In that game, the Gauchos overcame a 13-point UH to tie the score at 41-41 by the start of a contentious fourth quarter. UCSB is not only looking to even the season series, but it is also in search of its first win in Honolulu since Hawai'i rejoined the league in the 2012-13 season. The Rainbow Wahine has been the league's most prolific rebounding team this year, as they outrebound their conference opponents by 10.8 rebounds per game.
Since the start of conference play, the Gauchos have been undefeated during their midweek match ups (Wednesday and Thursday). With a 7-0 record in those games, UCSB has outscored its opponents by an average of 17.9 points. Their largest margin of victory during that time was a 30-point blowout of Cal State Fullerton (2/3/16), while their narrowest win came when they downed UC Davis by seven points (1/21/16). In fact, the Gauchos have not dropped a midweek decision since Thursday, Dec. 15 when they fell at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Three of a Kind
Entering this week, Makala Roper owns the best three-point shooting percentage in Big West play with a 44.2 percent clip. Behind that mark, she also leads the league with 38 made three-pointers in conference action, which has helped her net 181 points, ranking eighth in the league. Overall this year, she has netted 60 shots from downtown (third in the league), accounting for 180 of her 351 total points this season.
After back-to-back four-point efforts at UC Irvine (2/11) and Long Beach State (2/13), Jasmine Ware has reached double digit scoring figures in the past four games and has been UCSB's leading scorer in the last three. She first led all bench players with 10 points in the Gauchos' 12-point win of the Matadors, and later finished with16 points and career-high eight assists in a narrow loss to LBSU. Last week, she was nominated for Big West Player of the Week after dropping 17 points on UC Irvine and pacing the Gauchos with 14 points at Cal Poly. Ware -- who plays as the sixth man for the Gauchos -- has averaged 28.8 minutes per game, which is second only to Makala Roper who clocked in 33.3 mpg. The senior also shot 49 percent from the field and averaged 4.3 assists during that span. Overall, she was responsible for an average of 24.3 points in each of those games or 38.6 percent of the Gauchos' total offense.
A Helping Hand
Onome Jemerigbe is currently one of the Big West's top distributors, as she is pacing UCSB with 4.1 assists per game and is leading the Big West with 5.5 apg in conference play, as she is the only player in the Big West averaging more than five helpers per league game. Perhaps the junior's best performance this season was her 11-assist game against Cal State Fullerton (2/3/16), while she recently recorded eight assists against UC Irvine (2/25/16). She also had 10 dimes at UC Davis (1/21/16), which was her first career double-digit assists game.
Though only a freshman, Coco Miller has been one of UCSB's top scorers from the start of the season, as she is currently third on the team with a 9.1 ppg average. The guard is also second only to Roper for the most three-pointers on the roster with 50, ranking seventh in the Big West. The freshman has also shown she can set up plays for her teammates, as she is third on the team with 60 assists, behind only Onome Jemerigbe (120) and Makala Roper (77) who both play part or full time at point guard.
Center of Attention
Je Zhé Newton made her first start as a Gaucho last Thursday against Hawai'i after recording her second career double double against Long Beach State in the previous game. Against the 49ers, she tallied finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while logging a personal best 29 minutes in the game. In her start versus the Anteaters, the junior produced nine points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes on the floor. The center has also been a force on defense with 28 blocks, ranking eighth in the league. Most recently, she recorded two blocks at Cal Poly, marking the ninth time this season she has had a multi-block performance.
UCSB has been among leading Big West teams in steals, averaging 9.0 overall (third) and 9.1 in league play (also third). Overall, the team has reached double figures in the steal category in 11 games this year, including three of the past six with 11 at UC Irvine, 12 at Long Beach State, and 14 versus CSUN. In conference play alone, Onome Jemerigbe is second in the league with 29 swipes, while Jasmine Ware is tied for third with 27. Along with Coco Miller (22 steals, eighth) and Chaya Durr (21 steals, t-ninth), UCSB has the most players in the conference's top-10 in steals during league play.
Entering this week, UCSB owns the third best shooting percentage in league play at 43.6. Ware leads the team and ranks ninth in the conference with a 49.7 shooting percentage, while Roper is making 41.3 percent of her looks as the team's leading scorer. This has been a huge jump from the 2014-15 season when the team ranked last in the league with a 37.3 league shooting clip.