Posted: Mar 11, 2019
Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2019 at 6:00 p.m.
No. 8 UC Santa Barbara (8-21, 5-11) at No. 5 UC Irvine (18-10, 8-8)
Bren Events Center – Irvine, Calif.
All-Time Record vs. the Anteaters: 66-32
Gauchos Fall in Regular Season Finale
UC Santa Barbara had its two-game winning streak snapped in its final regular season matchup at UC Davis on Saturday, falling 80-44. Despite holding Big West Player of the Year Morgan Bertsch to just 16 points on 3-of-11 shooting, the Gauchos weren't able to overcome a slow start, as the Aggies took a 12-0 lead from the opening tip. Junior guard Tal Sahar led UCSB with 11 points, six rebounds and a season-high two steals.
At 8-21 overall and 5-11 in Big West play, the Gauchos enter their fourth straight Big West Tournament carrying the No. 8 seed for the first time since 2014. Historically, UCSB has had tremendous success in the tournament, having come away with 14 championships, nine more than any other Big West school. The Gauchos' last tournament championship came when they were the No. 6 seed in 2011-12, defeating Long Beach State 63-54 to become the lowest seed in conference history to do it. This will be the fourth time UCSB heads into the postseason under head coach Bonnie Henrickson, who has a 3-3 mark in Big West Tournament play. Henrickson and the Gauchos came extremely close to a winning it all just two years ago, when they upset No. 1 UC Davis 73-59 in the semifinals before falling to No. 2 LBSU 56-55 in a thrilling championship game which came down to the final shot.
BWT First Round: UC Irvine
The Gauchos open things up Tuesday against No. 5 seed UC Irvine, which happens to be the tournament host for the first two rounds. The Anteaters (18-10, 8-8) begin the postseason boasting their highest regular season winning percentage since 1994-95, when they entered the tournament with a 19-10 mark. UCSB hung tight against UCI in their first meeting of the year on Jan. 31, falling 74-68 after entering the fourth quarter trailing by one. Coco and Danae Miller led the way with 19 and 16 points, respectively. The Gauchos would get their revenge on Feb. 16, as the Millers dominated down the stretch, combining for 41 points in a 71-52 thrashing. UCSB held UCI to opponent season-lows of 32.1 percent from the field and 14.3 percent on threes. The Gauchos have won four straight Big West Tournament meetings against the Anteaters since 1997, owning a 4-2 all-time edge. The last time they faced each other, No. 5 UCSB defeated No. 8 UC Irvine 62-43 back in 2016.
Until Next Year, Sweet Dome
Over the past two years, February and March have been good to the Gauchos within the friendly confines of the Thunderdome, as UCSB boasts a near-perfect 8-1 mark at home during those months. Unfortunately, they have mirrored those results on the road, going 1-9 away from the Dome over that same span. This season, UCSB has a 2-13 record in non-Thunderdome outings. UCI meanwhile has gone 10-4 at the Bren Events Center in 2018-19.
The Millers Earn All-Big West Honors
After a challenging season in which they handled a huge share of the Gauchos' responsibilities on both ends of the floor, guards Coco Miller (Second Team) and Danae Miller (Honorable Mention) both garnered All-Big West selections. After missing all 29 games last year, Coco Miller has returned to lead UCSB in scoring (12.3 ppg) for the first time in her career. While her shot hasn't always been on this season, Coco's value to her team when she's on the floor is unmistakable. She has hit the 20-point mark seven times, two more than the rest of her team combined. Four different times, she knocked down five or more threes, the most such occurrences from any Big West player this season. On Jan. 12, in the Gauchos' second game of conference play at Cal Poly, Miller went off for a career-high 33 points, knocking down 6-of-10 from three-point range for her fourth 20-point outing in five games. Her 1.8 steals per game put her at fourth in the conference, while her 55 triples are good for third and are approaching UCSB's all-time top-10 for a single season. Coco's success has led to team success this year – she is averaging 18.5 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting in wins, compared to 10.0 points on 26.5 percent shooting in losses.
Meanwhile, Danae Miller has blossomed since being thrust into a more central role for her sophomore season. The younger Miller has shattered her career-high averages across the board, ranking top-10 during conference play in assists (5th, 4.0), free throw shooting (5th, .808), steals (8th, 1.6) and minutes (2nd, 37.3). Her 11.2 points per game since the start of January are also just slightly behind Coco for the team-lead, while her 2.6 free throws per game are second-to-none. After missing the first four games of the year with a foot injury and easing her way back into things, the former Long Beach Poly High star would flip a switch and become one of the team's top producers the rest of the way. She would help lead UCSB to its first away win of the season, 63-58 at San Diego State on Dec. 21, as she crossed the 10-point mark for the first time with 16 points and eight boards. That started a run of six straight games in double-figures, including a career-high 22-point, eight-assist outing against New Mexico State. That stretch also saw her post four or more assists in nine straight games, another career-best.
Junior center Natalia Bruening has been a focal point for UCSB at times this year, with her size and ability to score efficiently inside being a key component of the Gaucho offense. The Newport Beach, Calif. native leads the team in rebounding (5.9 rpg) and is UCSB's third-leading scorer (9.7 ppg). Her 50.5 shooting percentage ranks fourth in the conference, while her four double-doubles are tied for sixth.
Freshman Megan Ormiston has done a commendable job backing up Bruening this season, providing solid production in limited minutes. Per 40 minutes however, the forward is averaging the eighth-most total rebounds (10.2) during conference play. She's doing even better on the offensive glass, ranking third with 4.6 boards per 40. Despite averaging just 15.1 minutes per contest, her 13 blocked shots this season are good for seventh in the Big West. If she had enough shot attempts to hit minimum requirements, her 52.5 shooting percentage would be the second-best in the conference.
Crashing The Glass
In her first year as a Gaucho, former West Los Angeles CC star Bri Anugwom has played a significant role, starting in 28 of 29 games. While her offensive production has been up-and-down – she's fourth on the team with 8.9 points per game – she seemingly has never lacked energy in other ways, especially on the glass. She leads the team with 6.2 rebounds per contest during conference, a mark which is good for second-best among Big West guards. She also continues to lead all Big West players in free throw percentage, converting at an extremely efficient 86.6 percent clip.
Three-Point Shooting Woes
UCSB has had a rough year in terms of outside shooting, shooting a league-worst 24.2 percent as a team during Big West play. On two occasions, the Gauchos set season-highs by going 10-of-33 from range, in losses at CSUN and UC Riverside. UCSB's top three-point shooter has been Coco Miller, who is connecting on 28.6 percent of her 6.6 attempts per game. 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 25.3 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 28.4 percent away from the Thunderdome.