Posted: Feb 19, 2019
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at 5:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara (6-18, 3-8) at Cal State Fullerton (11-12, 3-7)
Titan Gym – Fullerton, Calif.
All-Time Record vs. the Titans: 57-25
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara (6-18, 3-8) at Long Beach State (7-17, 4-7)
Walter Pyramid – Long Beach, Calif.
All-Time Record vs. the 49ers: 53-29
Two Wins in Three Games
After being outplayed in the third quarter against Hawaii last Wednesday, UC Santa Barbara fell 72-49 on the road. Three nights later though, against a UC Irvine team that entered the game with the best overall record in the Big West at 16-5, UCSB looked like a completely different team. The Gauchos zipped up and down the floor against an outmatched Anteater side, led by Coco Miller (21 points) and Danae Miller (20). UCSB's lead guards combined for 18 of UCSB's 20 fourth quarter points as the Gauchos pulled away for their most lopsided win of the season, 71-52.
Big West Picture
With just five games left on the regular season schedule, UCSB has its postseason fate in its own hands. The Gauchos enter the week at 6-18 overall, 3-8 Big West, currently one game ahead of Cal Poly (5-17, 2-9) for the No. 8 seed and just one game back of fifth place Long Beach State (7-17, 4-7). A win in either game this week would be a huge boost to UCSB's postseason hopes.
Fullerton, Long Beach Preview
The Gauchos enter the week winners in two of their last three after claiming huge wins over second place CSUN and fourth place UC Irvine, the latter still boasting the second-highest win percentage (.727) in the conference. UCSB still has yet to win a conference game outside of the Thunderdome in 2019, but with just three road matchups left, this week could be the last chance.
The Gauchos open up against Cal State Fullerton this Thursday, at 5:00 p.m., a team they had defeated seven straight times before falling 59-52 at home in late January. Since then, the Titans have lost six straight games. At 11-12 overall, 3-7 Big West, CSF currently possesses the No. 7 seed, just a half game ahead of UCSB.
On Saturday, UCSB travels to Long Beach for its penultimate away game of the season. The 49ers were the first Big West team the Gauchos were able to defeat this year, downing them 60-54 on Jan. 19. Natalia Bruening led all players with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting in that win. Saturday's game is scheduled for a 4:00 p.m. tipoff.
It's Miller Time
Following her second field goal-less outing of the season – both times coming against Hawaii – redshirt junior guard Coco Miller had a return to form in the win over Irvine, as she went for a team-high 21 points (7-13 FG). It was her team-leading seventh 20-point performance of the season, but just the first in her last nine games, since she put up a career-high 33 points at Cal Poly on Jan. 12. Miller remains one of the conference's leading scorers, coming in sixth at 13.0 points per game, and she has made the second-most three-pointers (46) in the Big West. Her success has led to team success this year – she is averaging 20.2 points per game on 48.2 percent shooting in wins, compared to 10.6 points on 27.2 percent shooting in losses.
Entering the season, point guard Danae Miller might have been considered more of a facilitator than a scorer, but she has struck a fine balance between the two so far in 2019. The sophomore has been UCSB's leading scorer (12.3 ppg) and playmaker (3.8 apg) during conference play, being aggressive on her drives to the basket while still managing to set up her teammates as the team's primary ball handler. Miller is coming off a superb week in which she averaged 18.5 points on 50 percent shooting (9-18 FG). She also went 16-for-18 (.889) from the charity stripe, knocking down a career-high eight free throws in two straight games. She hit the 20-point mark for the second time in her career in the win over UCI, and she did it in as efficient a showing as you could ask for: 5-for-5 from the field, 2-of-2 on threes and 8-for-8 from the line.
Junior center Natalia Bruening's minutes have been down this month – she's averaging 17.6 minutes through five games in February – but she has still managed to keep her efficiency high when she's gotten the ball inside. Bruening is shooting a hair under 62 percent (13-21 FG) over her last three, averaging 10 points per contest. Foul trouble and turnovers have continued to be her weak spots. She has committed at least four fouls in 11 of 24 games, and has had four or more turnovers six times this season. Regardless, she remains crucial to UCSB's success, especially on the offensive end where she's able to suck defenders into the paint with her size and efficiency in deep. Bruening ranks second in the Big West in field goal percentage (.512) and 11th in rebounding (5.7 rpg).
Making An Impact
In her first season as a Gaucho, sophomore guard Bri Anugwom has been a key role player, coming in fourth on the team in scoring (9.1 ppg) and maintaining the highest free throw percentage (.857) in the Big West. Over her last six efforts, the former West Los Angeles CC standout's scoring has been trending up (10.3 ppg), as has her outside shooting (6-12 3FG). When her offense hasn't been there, Anugwom has made great efforts on the glass, currently ranking No. 8 in the conference with a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game during league play.
UCSB has taken a step back this year in terms of its three-point efficiency, shooting a league-low 24.3 percent as a team in 2019 after a rough January when it shot just 21.9 percent. The worst may be behind the Gauchos though, as they have shown signs that their shooting may be getting on track somewhat. They nailed a season-high 10 three-pointers on 33 attempts (.303) at UC Riverside on Feb. 2, and one week later would shoot a conference season-best 36.4 percent (8-22 3FG) in a win over CSUN. The team had been enjoying an upward trend in its three-point shooting each year under Bonnie Henrickson, going from 29.8 percent in 2015-16, to 34.2 and 35.2 percent in the two following years, but that has dropped to 25.6 percent in 2018-19. Surprisingly, the outside shooting issues have been more noticeable at home, where UCSB has shot 21.4 percent from range, compared to 29.1 percent away from the Thunderdome.
The 2018-19 Gauchos feature an overhauled roster with seven new faces, including four freshmen: forward Megan Ormiston (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley HS) and guards DeLauna Thomas (Gardena, Calif./Serra HS), Lauren Lee (River Forest, Ill./Trinity HS) and Kiana Vierra (Honolulu, Hawaii/Kamehameha-Kapalama School). Redshirt senior guard Paris Jones also joins the team after four seasons at LIU Brooklyn, where she averaged 4.4 points and 1.1 assists in 62 games. Sophomore Bri Anugwom gets her first taste of Division I basketball after a freshman year at West Los Angeles CC where she averaged 20.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 46.8 percent from the field. Rounding out the newcomers is junior guard/forward Celeste Salazar, who comes to UCSB after averaging 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds last season at Ventura College.