UCSB Seeks 10th Big West Tournament Title in the Last 11 Years

UCSB Seeks 10th Big West Tournament Title in the Last 11 Years

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March 7, 2007

2007 Big West Conference Tournament
Anaheim, CA • Anaheim Convention Center (7,734)
Wednesday, March 7 • First Round
No. 5 Cal State Fullerton vs. No. 8 Pacific • 12:00 p.m.
No. 6 Long Beach State vs. No. 7 UC Irvine • 30 minutes after conclusion of first game
Thursday, March 8 • Quarterfinals
Lowest remaining seed vs. No. 3 Cal Poly • 12:00 p.m.
Highest remaining seed vs. No. 4 Cal State Northridge • 30 minutes after conclusion of first quarterfinal
Friday, March 9 • Semifinals
Lowest remaining seed vs. No. 1 UC Riverside • 12:00 p.m.
Highest remaining seed vs. No. 2 UC Santa Barbara • 30 minutes after conclusion of first semifinal
Saturday, March 10 • Championship Game
1:00 p.m. • Televised live on Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket

Tourney Time
UC Santa Barbara will be shooting for the league's automatic bid into the 64-team NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship -- something it has secured nine out of the last 10 years -- this weekend at the 2007 Big West Conference Tournament. After the Gauchos failed to win the Big West regular season title for the first time since the 1994-95 season, they head to Anaheim with the No. 2 seed after defeating Cal State Northridge 90-79 Saturday afternoon. The event, which starts Wednesday, March 7 at the Anaheim Convention Center, rewards the top-two regular season finishers with a pair of byes and automatic advancement into the semifinal round. That said, UCSB will open league tourney play on Friday, March 9 at approx. 2:30 p.m. against the highest remaining seed. Santa Barbara has won 26 of its last 27 games in Big West Tournament play dating back to 1997, the first of a string of nine straight titles. The Gauchos will play their first neutral-site game of 2006-07 when they take the court Friday in Anaheim.

The Gaucho Record
The Gauchos wrapped up the regular season with an overall record of 17-12 and finished second in the Big West Conference standings with a 10-4 mark. UCSB enters the Big West Tournament with a great deal of momentum after defeating Pacific and Cal State Northridge on the road last week. Santa Barbara handed the Tigers a 79-67 loss last Thursday in Stockton before defeating Cal State Northridge 90-79 in the Matadome Saturday to avenge its first loss to CSUN since 1984 and capture the conference's No. 2 seed. The Gauchos have won 13 of their last 17 games since Dec. 28.

UCSB on the Air & Web
As always, the Gauchos' Big West Tournament games will be broadcast live on KIST 1340 AM in Santa Barbara. Steve Wendt will handle the play-by-play duties and Don Ford will serve as color commentator. Broadcasts begin 15 minutes prior to tip-off with the "Gaucho Pregame Show". Gaucho fans can also listen to the action from Anaheim on KCSB 91.9 FM with Chris Pisar and Anna Oleson-Wheeler at the call or catch the games live via the internet by going to www.ucsbgauchos.com and purchasing the "UCSB All-Access Pass". With this option hoops fans can enjoy live audio and video from the comfort of their homes courtesy of CSTV. Finally, Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket will televise Saturday's championship game live at 1:00 p.m. Paul Sunderland (play-by-play) and Tracy Warren (color commentary) form Fox's dynamic announcing team.

Gauchos Grab No. 2 Seed in Style
UCSB's offense responded to the challenge in a big way Saturday, scoring a season-high on the way to a convincing 90-79 victory over Cal State Northridge in the Matadome. With the win the Gauchos returned the favor after the Matadors had posted a 66-64 victory in the Thunderdome Jan. 25 -- its first win against Santa Barbara in 17 prior meetings. More importantly, UCSB locked up second place in the Big West standings and earned a bye into the semifinals of the conference tournament. Jessica Wilson led a total of six Gauchos in double figures -- that's right six -- with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds and four assists. Chisa Ononiwu sank 8-of-13 shots from the floor and finished with 16 points and a career-high four steals. LaShay Fears reached double figures for the third consecutive game, netting 15, while Meagan Williams and Jordan Franey scored 14 and 11 off the bench, respectively, and Whitney Warren added 10. Santa Barbara came out of the gates firing with Wilson scoring the first five points for the Gauchos. In front 7-3, UCSB used a 13-3 run to build a 20-6 advantage with 12:30 remaining in the first half. The Gauchos led 43-21 at the half and the Matadors would get no closer than the 11-point margin at the final horn after intermission. Santa Barbara shot 50% for the game and went 8-of-17 from three-point range, 47%.

Probable Starters - Notes
3 • Chisa Ononiwu • Jr. • G - Scored 16 points, with career-high four steals vs. CSUN.
5 • Jessica Wilson • Jr. • G - Shot 62% overall last week, 71% from three-point range.
40 • LaShay Fears • So. • G - Went 6-for-10 with a career-high 23 points at Pacific.
2 • Whitney Warren • So. • F - Reached double figures (10) for first time since Feb. 8 Saturday.
33 • Jenna Green • Jr. • C - Tallied 14 points, six rebounds, and five blocks in win over Tigers.

Probable Reserves - Notes
14 • Jordan Franey • Fr. • G - Leads Gauchos with 39 three-pointers made in 2006-07.
21 • Meagan Williams • Fr. • G - Scored 14 points and tallied team-high eight rebounds vs. Matadors.
12 • Ariana Gnekow • Fr. • G/F - Has not scored since Feb. 8 at UC Irvine, a span of six games.
25 • Jessica Goble • Fr. • C - Appeared for first time in UCSB's last five games at Northridge.
55 • Ashley Hall • Fr. • F - Grabbed one rebound in one minute in Saturday's win.
11 • Sha'Rae Gibbons • So. • G - Scored for the first time since Dec. 9 in one minute vs. Matadors.

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 413-190 (.685) while at UCSB and an overall mark of 511-304 (.627). Since the 1991-92 season, 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, winning his 500th career game as a head coach with UCSB's victory over Long Beach State Jan. 4.

Three Gauchos Earn All-Conference Honors
After finishing second in the Big West Conference standings, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team had three players selected to all-conference teams on Monday. Earning a spot on the first team for the second year in a row was junior center Jenna Green. The San Jose, Calif. native was the only player to start all 29 games for UCSB during the regular season and scored in double figures in all but four contests in 2006-07. Green led the conference shooting 53% from the field, while her per game average of 16 points ranked fourth and paced the Gauchos. She was also second among Big West shot blockers averaging 1.7 per night and seventh in rebounding at 7.2. Secondly, junior guard Jessica Wilson was named Second Team All-Big West again this season after leading the conference in assists at 4.5 per game. The native of Sacramento, Calif., who was second on the team in scoring (13.4) and rebounding (6.7), also averaged 1.96 steals per contest, the fourth highest in the league, and ranked seventh in the Big West shooting 44.7% from the floor. Wilson scored in double-digits 20 times during the regular season, with three performances of 20 or more. Lastly, Jordan Franey was named the Big West Freshman of the Year after earning a spot on the all-freshman squad. The 6'0" forward shined from behind the three-point arc, ranking in the top 10 in the conference in three-point shooting percentage (.333) and three-pointers made (1.34).

Life At No. 2
The Gauchos enter this week's Big West Tournament in a very unfamiliar position. For the first time in 11 years, UCSB will not have the No. 1 seed entering the conference's final weekend. The last time Santa Barbara did not capture the top seed was in 1994-95, when the Gauchos earned a No. 2 seed and went on to lose to Cal State Fullerton in the quarterfinals. The following year UCSB finished 17-1 in conference, grabbed the league's No. 1 seed, and proceeded to win the first of nine straight Big West Tournament championships. Although a narrow 59-58 loss to UC Riverside in the final a year ago snapped the Gauchos' 26-game tournament winning streak and string of titles, Santa Barbara is still the proud owner of 33 wins in tournament play overall, more than any other team in the conference. Prior to its unprecedented run of nine consecutive crowns, the Gauchos had advanced no further than the Big West semifinals for three straight years (1994-96). UCSB also won league tourney titles in 1992 and 1993, turning the corner after posting just a 1-6 record over the first six seasons of tournament play (1986-91).

Offense Picks Right Time to Peak
UCSB's offense was once again firing on all cylinders last week, as the Gauchos shot better than 50% from the floor in both of their road wins. After Santa Barbara shot a season-high 58.5% against Pacific Jan. 27 in the first meeting between the two schools, the Gauchos made 28-of-50 shots, 56% against the Tigers last Thursday. UCSB followed that performance by making 50% (30-60) of their shots in Saturday's win over Cal State Northridge in the regular season finale. The 90 points the Gauchos pinned on the Matadors was the most against a Big West opponent in 2006-07 and tied a season-high (UCSB scored 90 vs. UC Davis Feb. 3). With the pair of victories, Santa Barbara improved to an impressive 13-1 when scoring 70 points or more and, after shooting better than 50% in back-to-back games for the first time this season, the Gauchos are now a perfect 5-0 when making at least half of their shots this season.

Take Six
As mentioned on page one, six Gauchos scored in double figures in Saturday's win at Cal State Northridge, the first time that has happened this season. Jessica Wilson, Chisa Ononiwu, LaShay Fears, Meagan Williams, Jordan Franey, and Whitney Warren all scored at least 10 against the Matadors after UCSB had produced just one or two double-digit scorers in three of the four previous games. Entering the contest with Northridge, Santa Barbara had 11 games in which four players scored 10+ and two contests where five players reached double figures. The Gauchos are 12-2 this season when four or more players score 10+. The last time UCSB had six players score 10 or more was Jan. 1, 1997 in a 103-72 win at Southern Utah.

Board Games
There have been a number of barometers for the Gauchos' success in 2006-07 and while those who have followed the team closely are already aware of this, lets lay it out again for those who have not: When the Gauchos handle the backboards they are very tough to beat. UCSB is an impressive 15-2 when out-rebounding its opponent and just 2-10 when the opposition controls or there is a tie on the glass this season. As you would expect, Santa Barbara posted a 31-28 advantage on the boards in the win over UOP and then out-rebounded CSUN 41-36 two days later. UCSB is fourth in the Big West in rebounding against league competition at 41 per game and leads in the conference in rebounding margin at +5.5. The Gauchos enter the BWT averaging 38.2 boards overall to their opponent's 37.4.

At Home on the Road
One of the other exciting things about this week's Big West Tournament if you're a UCSB fan is the fact that the games will not be played in the Thunderdome. As strange as it is to say this, the Gauchos have been a far better team on the road this season than at home. After finishing a respectable 10-3 in the T-Dome in 2005-06, Santa Barbara was just 8-9 in Santa Barbara during the regular season this year, the team's worst performance at home since the 1987-88 campaign (Mark French's first season as head coach). On the bright side, the Gauchos have been spectacular on the road, posting an impressive 9-3 mark after finishing just 5-10 away from home a year ago. UCSB's three road losses are the fewest since the 2001-02 squad -- a team that went 26-6 overall and finished a perfect 16-0 in Big West play -- also lost three.

Dynamic Duo
Santa Barbara's junior tandem of Jenna Green and Jessica Wilson has been one of the more formidable one-two punches in the Big West in 2006-07. Elected team captain this season, Green leads the Gauchos and ranks fourth in the league averaging 16.0 points per game, while UCSB's most versatile player in Wilson is second on the team and 10th in the conference at 13.4. With a combined scoring average of 29.4, the pair has accounted for nearly 44% of the Gauchos' average of 69.6 points per game this season. In terms of other Big West scoring duos, only Cal State Fullerton's Toni Thomas (17.6) and Charlee Underwood (14.6) have combined to average more than Green and Wilson at 32.2 points per game.

Scouting the Tournament Field
The Gauchos struggled in two losses to conference regular season champion UC Riverside (19-10 overall, 12-2 Big West) as the Highlander defense forced UCSB into two of its worst shooting performances of the year. UCSB lost its conference opener for the first time in 18 years after shooting just 28% from the floor in a 70-57 loss in Riverside in late December and then dropped a 62-54 decision to the Highlanders two weeks ago with a shot at the No. 1 seed on the line...UCR's Kmele Nkele was named the Big West Player of the Year after ranking in the top 10 in the conference in nine categories, while John Margaritas earned Coach of the Year honors... Santa Barbara erased a 12-point deficit late in the second half to defeat third-seed Cal Poly (14-13, 9-5) 68-62 January 20 in San Luis Opisbo. The Mustangs, who feature two-time All-Big West First Team selection Jessica Eggleston, answered with a 71-68 win in the Thunderdome Feb. 17. UCSB also split two games with No. 4 seed Cal State Northridge (13-15, 9-5) as the Matadors defeated the Gauchos for the first time since 1984 with a 66-64 win in the Thunderdome January 25. Santa Barbara responded in a big way, scoring a season-high in last Saturday's 90-79 win in the Matadome to capture the Big West's No. 2 seed. The Gauchos swept the season series from Cal State Fullerton (14-14, 7-7), Long Beach State (7-22, 4-10), UC Irvine (6-23, 3-11) and Pacific (8-21, 2-12), seeded fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth respectively.

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 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.

Looking Ahead
Should the Gauchos win twice in Anaheim to claim the Big West Tournament title, they will await announcement of the 64-team NCAA Tournament field on Monday, March 11. The brackets will be unveiled live on ESPN beginning at 5:00 p.m. UCSB has earned a trip to the Big Dance nine of the past 10 seasons and a total of 11 times in program history.