UCSB Trys to Secure Big West's Second Seed in Regular Season's Final Week

UCSB Trys to Secure Big West's Second Seed in Regular Season's Final Week

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Feb. 28, 2007

The Schedule
Game No. 28
Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 7:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at University of the Pacific Tigers
Alex G. Spanos Center (6,150)

Game No. 29
Saturday, March 3, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Cal State Northridge Matadors
The Matadome (1,600)

This Week
After missing an opportunity to capture a share of an unprecedented 12th consecutive Big West regular season title, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team will battle for second place with two games on the road this week. The Gauchos travel to Pacific Thursday, Mar. 1 at 7:00 p.m. and wrap up the 2006-07 regular season at Cal State Northridge Saturday, Mar. 3 at 4:00 p.m. UCSB will look to sweep the season series with the Tigers after a convincing 89-55 win in the Thunderdome Jan. 27 and try to avenge a 66-64 home loss to the Matodors that came two days earlier.

The Gaucho Record
The Gauchos enter the season's final week with an overall record of 15-12 after defeating Cal State Fullerton 70-64 last Thursday only to fall to UC Riverside 62-54 with first place on the line Thursday. With the loss, UCSB finishes the regular season under .500 at home at 8-9 and is now in a three-way tie for second place in the Big West Conference standings at 8-4 with Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly. After winning 10 of 12 from Dec. 30 through Feb. 10, Santa Barbara has lost two of its last three in league play. The Gauchos have not dropped consecutive games since following a 69-45 home loss to No. 20 Michigan State Dec. 20 with the 70-57 defeat at UC Riverside eight days later.

Gauchos Shut Down By UC Riverside Defense, 62-54
UC Riverside's Kemie Nkele scored a game-high 22 points and Amber Cox added 12 to lead the Highlanders to a 62-54 win over UCSB last Saturday in the Thunderdome. With the loss, the Gauchos saw their chances at sharing a 12th consecutive Big West regular season title slip away as UCR clinched the school's first women's conference crown as a Division I program. Santa Barbara's string of 11 consecutive titles -- 10 of those outright -- was the longest such active streak in the nation. The Highlander defense was definitely the story, limiting the Gauchos to just 54 points, UCSB's fourth lowest total this season. Santa Barbara made a season-low 17 field goals on 50 attempts, 34%, while Riverside finished 23-of-55 from the floor, 41.8%. The Highlanders did an excellent job on UCSB's two hottest players, limiting Jenna Green and Jessica Wilson to a combined 11 points on 3-for-13 shooting. LaShay Fears was the only Gaucho to score in double figures with 15. After Riverside opened up a commanding 24-6 lead with 8:39 remaining in the first half, Santa Barbara responded with a 23-8 run to close within three, 32-29 at the break. Nkele took over in the second half, scoring 17 of the Highlander's 30 points and UCSB could get no closer than three the rest of the way.

Not-So Balanced Attack
As previously mentioned, only one player was able to score in double figures for UCSB in Saturday's loss to UC Riverside, something that has only happened on one other occasion this season. While much of that can be attributed to excellent Highlander defense, it has also been a trend for the Gauchos in recent weeks. Jenna Green and Jessica Wilson were the only two players to score 10 or more in last Thursday's win over Cal State Fullerton, combining for 40 of the team's 70 points. That came a week after the pair were the only players to reach double figures in the 71-68 home loss to Cal Poly. With the exception of LaShay Fears, UCSB's starters went a combind 8-for-22 against the Highlanders Saturday, 36.3%. Santa Barbara is now just 5-10 when fewer than four players score 10+ points this season, compared to it's impressive 10-2 mark when at least four reach double figures.

Mr. 500
Mark French returned to his alma mater at the start of the 1987-88 season and women's basketball at UC Santa Barbara has never been the same. Now in his 20th season as head coach of the Gauchos, French has had an immensely successful career, posting a record of 411-190 (.684) while at UCSB and an overall mark of 509-304 (.626). Since the 1991-92 campaign, a period spanning 15 years, French's Gauchos have won 12 Big West Conference titles and advanced to 11 NCAA Tournaments, including five second rounds and a Sweet 16 appearance, as well as two WNITs. Individually, French has earned an unprecedented seven Big West Coach of the Year honors, while in 2002-03 he was named WBCA District 8 Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award. He is the dean of Big West coaches, with nine more years of experience in the league than any of his current counterparts. 2006-07 has been a year of milestones thus far, as French collected his 400th win at UCSB when the Gauchos defeated Pepperdine 78-67 Dec. 18. Less than three weeks later, he added another notch on his belt, winnnig his 500th career game as a head coach with UCSB's victory over Long Beach State Jan. 4.

Probable Starters - Notes
G - LaShay Fears - Led the team in scoring for second time this season with 15 against UC Riverside.
G - Jessica Wilson - Tallied 16 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists against Cal State Fullerton.
G - Chisa Ononiwu - Grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds in Saturday's loss.
F - Whitney Warren - Missed double figures in last four after scoring 10+ in 3 of 4 Jan. 27-Feb. 8.
C - Jenna Green - Established new career-high with 12 field goals made against the Titans.

Probable Reserves - Notes
F - Jordan Franey - Scored nine points off the bench in both games last week.
G - Meagan Williams - Was 2-for-2 and finished with seven points against the Highlanders.
G/F - Ariana Gnekow - Scoreless in a total of four minutes against Fullerton and Riverside.
C - Jessica Goble - Recorded career-high two blocks in last appearance at Long Beach State Feb. 10.
F - Ashley Hall - Has not played in the last three games after appearing in four straight.
G - Sha'Rae Gibbons - Appeared in eight games for the Gauchos this season.

Looking Up
The Gauchos find themselves in a very unfamiliar position with two games remaining until the Big West Tournament. For the first time since the 1994-95 season, UCSB will not have the No. 1 seed entering the conference's final weekend. Last season, Santa Barbara shared the conference regular season title with Long Beach State at 10-4, but the Gauchos were awarded the No. 1 because of a stronger showing against Big West competition. Having already lost four league games this season, UCSB will need some help to finish second in the league standings and earn a first round bye in the Big West tourney. Currently tied with Northridge and Cal Poly at 8-4, the Gauchos need to win both games this week and hope either UOP or CSUN can knock off the Mustangs as well. UCSB needed a Cal Poly win a week ago to stay in the hunt for the top seed, now the Gauchos are rooting for a Mustang loss. 1994-95 was also the last time Santa Barbara lost five conference games.

A Gaucho Response is Quite a Thing
While the Gauchos have lost two of their last three games entering the season's final week, there is good reason to believe they will respond in a big way this Thursday at Pacific. The last time UCSB dropped two of three -- losing at home to Cal State Northridge Jan. 25 and to No. 8 Stanford Feb. 1 -- the Gauchos answered the call in their next game. UC Davis was the victim, as Santa Barbara shot 49.2% (29-59) from the floor and sank 47.4% (9-19) of its threes on the way to a smashing 90-64 victory. The 90 points stands as the Gauchos' high mark this season and it was the most points UCSB had scored since Dec. 17, 2005. The last time Coach French's squad lost two in a row -- at home to No. 20 Michigan State and at UC Riverside in late December -- Santa Barbara erased a 16-point second half deficit to defeat Cal State Fullerton for the 26th consecutive time. That was UCSB's largest come-from-behind win this season.

Scouting the Tigers
• Santa Barbara will travel to Stockton to take on Pacific on Thursday. The Gauchos and Tigers have met 55 times over the years, with UCSB holding a 41-14 advantage in the all-time series after an 89-55 thrashing of UOP Jan. 27. Chisa Ononiwu connected on 6-of-8 three-point attempts on the way to a career-high 29 points, while Jessica Wilson added 17. The Gauchos were lights out from distance as team that day, draining 14-of-18 shots from behind the arc, an astounding 77.8%. Both the 14 threes made and the 77.8% percentage were new school records and the 34-point win was UCSB's largest this season. Santa Barbara has defeated Pacific nine straight times by an average margin of victory of nearly 23 points per game. The Gauchos have not lost to the Tigers since 2003 when UOP posted a 74-65 win in Stockton.

• Pacific enters Thursday's contest with an overall record of 8-19 and a 2-10 Big West Conference mark after dropping a 72-51 decision to Cal State Northridge Saturday. The Tigers have lost four straight and 13 of 15 overall, with their last victory coming nearly a month ago. UOP averages 59.8 points per game, while its opponents put up 68.3 per contest. The Tigers have been out-rebounded by a 41.8 to 38.9 margin and shoot 34.5% from the field to their opposition's mark of 41.4%. Sophomore forward Karen Dawkins leads Pacific averaging 13.3 points and 7.4 boards per game while shooting a team-high 47% from the floor. Freshman guard Jake Kelly is the Tigers' only other player that averages doule figures at 11.1 points per night to go with a team-high 61 three-pointers made.

Green Machine
Junior center Jenna Green leads UCSB averaging 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds and has recorded a team-high 45 blocked shots in 2006-07. The San Jose, Calif. native also leads the squad shooting 53.4% from the floor and has scored in double-figures in all but three games this season. She is second on the squad in minutes played, averaging 31 per contest. As far as Big West statistics go, Green leads the conference in field goal percentage, ranks second in scoring and blocks, and seventh in rebounding. Less than a week after scoring a career-high 29 points in a losing effort against Cal Poly, Green continued to tear it up against Cal State Fullerton. She finished 12-for-19 from the floor, both of which were career-bests, for a game-high 24 points, her second highest total this season. The performance marked the fourth consecutive game Green had been the high scorer. She also added nine rebounds and four blocks in the win. Green was not as successful Saturday in the loss to UC Riverside as the Highlanders limited her to just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. She had six rebounds and one block. The junior currently ranks 18th on the UCSB all-time scoring charts with 1,054 career points and is exactly 100 shy of Jess Hansen (1993-2003) in the 17th spot.

What Will She Come Up With Next?
Jessica Wilson is capable of unveiling a special performance any time she steps on the court and her showing in the win over the Titans was one of those performances. The Sacramento, Calif. native finished one assist and one rebound shy of her first-career triple-double with 16 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. She was 5-of-9 from the floor, including 2-for-3 from downtown, made 4-of-5 attempts at the foul line, and had a game-high three assists. Like many Gauchos, she struggled Saturday in the loss to the Highlanders, finishing 0-for-3 from the field with just three points. She did, however tally nine boards against a very talented UCR frontcourt and dish out a game-high four assists. Despite her lowest scoring total this season, she has scored in double figures in 18 of the 25 games she has played in in 2006-07. The Big West's assist leader at 4.60 per night, Wilson also owns the conference's best single game performance this season with 12, which came in UCSB's first meeting with Pacific. Wilson ranks fourth in the league in steals averaging 1.92 per game, eighth in field goal percentage (.433), 11th in rebounding (6.5), and 12th in scoring (13.0). As far as the team goes, Wilson is second in scoring and rebounding and leads the squad in steals. She has made 34% (19-56) of her threes this season.

Come On Back
There is no question that junior guard Chisa Ononiwu has given the Gauchos a lift the last 18 games. A very reliable third scoring option, Ononiwu has scored in double figures in 12 out of 18 games since becoming eligible Dec. 18, but has failed to score 10 or more in four of the last five. Less than a week after tallying seven points, seven rebounds, and four assists in UCSB's home loss to Cal Poly, she made half of her eight shots and finished with nine points and seven boards in a career-high 36 minutes in the win over Cal State Fullerton. Two days later she was just 4-for-10 against UC Riverside for nine points, but did pull down a career-best and game-high 10 rebounds. If the Gauchos are going to win their 10th Big West Tournament title in the last 11 years, they will need more production from Ononiwu. A nine game stretch from Jan. 4 through Feb. 3 in which she averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists comes to mind. The Houston, Tex. native is third on the team averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per night. Ononiwu is second in field goal percentage (45.4%) and three-point shooting (39.3%). The Gauchos are 12-6 (.667) with Ononiwu in the lineup this season, compared to a mark of just 3-6 (.333) without her.

Point Taken
Sophomore point guard LaShay Fears enters competition this week averaging 8.6 points per game and is second on the squad with 32 three-pointers made. She leads the team and ranks eighth in the Big West averaging 33.4 minutes per game in 2006-07 and is second dishing out three assists. Fears has scored in double figures a total of eight times this season -- including four of the last six -- and the Gauchos have a 5-3 record in those games. The Palmdale, Calif. native was 5-for-14 from the field in Saturday's loss to UC Riverside, including 2-of-6 from downtown for 15 points to lead the Gauchos in scoring for the second time this season (the first came Jan. 6 against UC Irvine). Fears was 2-for-4 from three-point territory and finished with six points in UCSB's victory over Fullerton last Thursday.

Role Reversal
After starting 17 of her first 21 games as a collegian, freshman forward Jordan Franey has come off the bench in the last six for the Gauchos and is averaging 7.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists over that span. The San Diego native scored nine points and hauled in four rebounds in both games last week and is fourth on the team averaging 8.9 points in 2006-07. Franey leads UCSB with 37 threes and has scored in double figures 13 times this season, the most among the Santa Barbara freshmen.

UCSB Lands Three Prized Recruits
On Wednesday, November 8, UCSB announced the signing of three high school seniors to National Letters of Intent during this year's early signing period. Ashlee Brown, a 6'0" forward from Good Year, Ariz., a 5'11" guard Courtney Collishaw of Visalia, Calif., and Margaret Johnson, a 5'11" forward from Lake Oswego, Ore. will join the Gauchos next season as true freshmen. Brown was named to the 2005-06 Arizona Tribune First Team and garnered First Team All-Fiesta Region accolades after averaging 21 points, 16 rebounds, five steals, four assists, and three blocked shots per game as a junior at Chandler High School. Collishaw signs with UCSB after earning Cal-Hi Sports All-State Junior Second Team honors at Redwood High School. She was named to the CIF Central Section First Team after scoring 22.6 points per game a year ago. Johnson enters her final season at Lake Oswego High School having guided the team to a second place league finish in 2006 at 10-4 and an 18-8 overall record. In 2007-08 Santa Barbara will also gain the services of 5'10" guard Lauren Pedersen, a junior transfer from UCLA. A native of Brea, Calif., she played two seasons with the Bruins, averaging 2.5 points and 1.6 rebounds in 54 career games while making 11 starts during that span. Pedersen will have two years of eligibility at UCSB starting next season.

Gauchos Look To Start Streaking
2005-06 was a very disappointing year by UCSB standards. Finishing just 16-14 last season and losing in the WNIT Preliminary Round, Coach French and the Gauchos had a number of streaks broken that they will be looking to reestablish this year. While Santa Barbara has already lost its bid for a 12th consecutive Big West regular season title, --a run that was the longest in the nation--the Gauchos still have their eye on a number of other prizes this season. A year ago, UCSB saw its streak of nine consecutive Big West Tournament titles come to a crashing halt after a narrow loss to UC Riverside in the title game. That being said, Santa Barbara did not receive the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and its string of nine-straight trips to the Big Dance was also severed. With a total of 16 victories, UCSB saw its span of 10 seasons with at least 20 wins broken, as well. Needless to say, UCSB will aim to start a new set of streaks in 2006-07.

O'Bryan, Thomas Leave UCSB
On October 17, head coach Mark French announced that two key players would not be with the Gauchos in 2006-07. Guard Erin O'Bryan and forward Shantel Thomas both left the program citing personal reasons. O'Bryan, who appeared in 27 games for UCSB last season, averaging 6.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.5 assists, will not be back for her senior season. Thomas, on the other hand, is expected to return at some point, provided she maintains her eligibility. The Sacramento, Calif. native appeared in 25 games as a true freshman in 2005-06, averaging 2.5 ppg and 2.6 rpg in 11.2 minutes per contest.

Another Blow...
Less than a month later, the coaching staff was dealt more bad news when the decision was made that Kat Suderman will redshirt in 2006-07. The San Luis Obispo, Calif. native will be inactive this season as she rehabilitates from a knee surgery she had last spring. Suderman was one of only two players to appear in all 30 games last season, starting eight games for UCSB. She posted career-highs averaging 6.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in 21.2 minutes per game. Over the past two seasons, Suderman has appeared in a combined 56 games, more than any other Gaucho over that span.