Gauchos Seek 10th Straight Big West Conference Tournament Title
March 8, 2006
Big West Conference Tournament Anaheim, CA Anaheim Convention Center (7,734)
Friday, March 10, 2006 Semifinals
#7 Cal State Northridge vs. #1 UC Santa Barbara 12:00 p.m.
#4 UC Riverside/#5 Cal Poly vs. #2 Long Beach State 30 minutes after conclusion of first semifinal
Saturday, March 11, 2006 Championship Game
1:00 p.m. Televised live on Fox Sports Net West 2
2005-06 Gaucho Record
15-12 overall/10-4 Big West Conference
10-3 home/5-9 away/0-0 neutral
Gauchos Three Games Above .500 for Just the Second Time this Season
An automatic bid into the 64-team NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship - something UC Santa Barbara has earned each of the past nine seasons - is up for grabs at the 2006 Big West Conference Tournament, beginning on Wednesday, March 8 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. The event format rewards the top-two regular season finishers with a pair of byes and automatic advancement into the semifinal round. The Gauchos earned a share of their unprecedented 11th-consecutive Big West title and own the tiebreaker over co-champion Long Beach State, meaning they will open league tourney play on Friday, March 10 at 12:00 p.m. against seventh-seeded Cal State Northridge. UCSB is currently riding a 25-game winning streak in Big West Tournament competition dating back to the first of their nine straight titles in 1997. The Gauchos - currently three games above .500 overall for just the second time this season - will play their first neutral-site game of 2005-06 when they take the court Friday in Anaheim.
Gauchos on the Air and Web
All of UCSB's Big West Tournament games will be broadcast live on KIST 1340 AM with "Showtime" Steve Wendt handling the play-by-play duties and "$1.98" Don Ford serving as color commentator. Daniel Flores and Chris Hoffman are making the trip to Anaheim as well, and will call all the action on KCSB 91.9 FM. All of Santa Barbara's games in 2005-06 can also be heard live via the internet by pointing your browser to www.ucsbgauchos.com and purchasing the "UCSB All-Access Pass", while live video streaming of every tourney game is available via a subscription service at www.bigwest.org/tv. Finally, Fox Sports Net West 2 - Channel 37 in Santa Barbara - will televise Saturday's championship game live at 1:00 p.m. Paul Sunderland (play-by-play) and Tammy Blackburn (color commentary) form Fox's dynamic announcing team.
UCSB's Big West Tournament History
Currently riding a 25-game winning streak in Big West Tournament play dating back to 1997, UCSB owns a 32-9 overall mark in the 20-year history of the event. The Gauchos' tournament victory total of 32 is most among all league teams. Prior to its unprecedented run of nine consecutive crowns, Santa Barbara had advanced no further than the semifinals of the Big West's 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).
Jenna Green Leads Trio of All-Big West Honorees for UCSB
After earning a share of another Big West title, the Gauchos were handsomely rewarded when the conference announced its postseason honors on Monday, March 6. Earning a spot on the six-player All-Big West First Team was sophomore center Jenna Green, who currently ranks among the league's top-six players in four categories including shooting percentage (51.6%) and scoring (14.5 points per game) where she is second and third-best, respectively. Meanwhile sophomore guard Jessica Wilson was a second team all-conference choice after posting a Big West-best 2.44 steals per game mark and a 6.7 rebounds per game mark that ranks sixth. Finally, fifth-year senior guard Karena Bonds garnered the first accolades of her collegiate career as an All-Big West honorable mention recipient. The Morro Bay, Calif., native appears on three conference top-10 statistical lists.
Probable Starters Notes #34 Autumn Nichols Sr. F 9.3 points, 5.5 boards, 58.5% shooting over last six games #33 Jenna Green So. C Double-digit scorer in 22 different contests this season #5 Jessica Wilson So. G 2.44 steals per game lead Big West, 6.7 rebounds rank sixth #32 Karena Bonds Sr. G Ranks among conference's top-10 in three categories #40 LaShay Fears Fr. G Has started all but one game as a true freshman
Reserves Notes #2 Whitney Warren Fr. G/F 77 rebounds are most among Gaucho rookies #10 Kim Smith Fr. G Two points in regular season finale vs. CSUN #22 Erin O'Bryan Jr. G Shooting just 20.0% (10-of-50) over her previous 11 games #23 Ana Onaindia So. G Three double-digit scoring efforts in last four contests #35 Shantel Thomas Fr. F Averaged 21.5 minutes played during pair of wins last week #42 Kat Suderman So. F/C 6.3 rebounds per game are eighth-most in Big West
The Gauchos opened 2005-06 receiving votes in both the ESPN/USA Today Top-25 Coaches' Poll and Associated Press Writers' Poll, but dropped out of both following the first week of the season. Meanwhile, Big West Conference coaches and media members proved to be mostly accurate prognosticators, tabbing the Gauchos to win their unprecedented 11th consecutive regular season conference title. In polls conducted Nov. 2 at the league's annual media day in Irvine, Calif., six of the eight coaches picked Santa Barbara to repeat defend its crown, while nine of 10 media members in attendance did the same. Conference co-champ Long Beach State was tabbed second in both polls.
Santa Barbara can boast the nation's second-longest active string of consecutive conference championships, trailing only Louisiana Tech which has recorded 14 straight league titles split between the Sun Belt and Western Athletic Conferences. UCSB owns a 160-12 (93.0%) record in Big West play since its streak of 11 consecutive crowns began in 1995-96. While the Gauchos captured each of their past 10 titles by no fewer than two full games and won their conference contests by an average of 18.5 points during that span, they fought their way to a co-championship in 2005-06 by an average victory margin of just 6.0. Santa Barbara's four Big West losses this year were its most since dropping five in 1994-95.
UC Santa Barbara alumnus Mark French is in his 19th season as head coach of the Gauchos and the 27th year of his immensely successful career. He currently owns a UCSB record of 395-176 (.692) and an overall mark of 493-290 (.630). Since the 1991-92 campaign, a period spanning 14 years, French's Gauchos have won 11 Big West Conference titles and advanced to 11 NCAA Tournaments - including five second rounds and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2004 - as well as one Postseason WNIT. 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.
UCSB Tops Pacific, Cal State Northridge To Gain Piece of Regular Season Crown
Needing to win their final two regular season games in the Thunderdome to assure themselves of at least a tie for the Big West championship, the Gauchos did just that in resounding fashion last week. On Thursday, March 2, UCSB used a 14-0 second-half run to pull away from Pacific and cruised to a 76-49 triumph, its widest victory margin of the 2005-06 campaign. Despite a 36.5% team shooting performance, Santa Barbara had four players score in double-figures for just the fourth time this season. Two days later, the Gauchos upped their field goal mark to 43.8% en route to topping Cal State Northridge 85-63 and posting their third-highest point total of the year. After LaShay Fears buried a 45-foot heave as the halftime buzzer sounded, UCSB scored the first nine points of the second period and never looked back. In late January, Santa Barbara defeated UOP and CSUN on the road by a combined total of just five points.
Scouting the Big West Tournament Field
The Gauchos split their two games with conference co-champ Long Beach State (18-9 overall, 10-4 Big West) as the 49ers ended a 28-game losing streak at the hands of UCSB with a 58-52 triumph at home on Jan. 7 before Santa Barbara enacted revenge last month in the Thunderdome...LBSU's Crystal McCutcheon was named Big West Player of the Year after leading the league at 17.0 points per game, while the Beach's Mary Hegarty earned Coach of the Year honors...Third-seed Cal State Fullerton (11-16, 7-7) - featuring Big West Freshman of the Year Toni Thomas - will look to end its 25-game skid against the Gauchos dating back to the 1995 league tourney should the two teams meet in Anaheim...UCSB's last loss was on Feb. 25 at UC Riverside (13-14, 7-7), which has won six straight games entering the postseason...Fifth-seeded Cal Poly (12-13, 7-7) and No. 6 UC Irvine were the only two Big West teams to defeat the Gauchos in the Thunderdome this season...Santa Barbara swept its season series with both Cal State Northridge (8-19, 5-9) and Pacific (6-21, 3-11), seeded seventh and eighth, respectively.
Getting Their Mojo Back
Entering the final week of the regular season having made just 34.4% (127-of-369) field goal tries over their previous six games - including a woeful 15.7% from three-point range - the Gauchos picked an excellent time to regain their shooting touch. After posting its widest victory margin of the season against Pacific, UCSB enjoyed its highest point total in Big West play and shot 43.8% - best performance in a month - in the finale vs. CSUN. That 85-point outburst was especially welcome considering Santa Barbara had averaged a meager 49.0 points over its previous three Saturday afternoon games.
Cal State Northridge and Pacific were both robbed during their trips to Santa Barbara last week, the victims of two of UCSB's three-highest steal totals of the regular season. The Gauchos matched their previous best total of 2005-06 with 16 swipes in Thursday's win over UOP, and then bettered that total by three against CSUN. In fact, those 19 steals Saturday were the most by Santa Barbara in almost five years, since also nabbing 19 in a March 7, 2001 win over Cal State Fullerton. After accumulating double-digit steals just eight times in all of 2004-05, UCSB has already reached that plateau on 12 occasions this year.
A team three-point shooting percentage of 25.7% that ranks last in the Big West by a considerable margin hasn't stopped the Gauchos from launching long bombs at a near-record pace in 2005-06. UCSB set the tone with a season-high 26 "trey" attempts in the opener at Michigan State and has fired up double-digit shots from beyond the arc in all but two of its 27 games, including 20-plus trifectas seven times. Santa Barbara is averaging 16.4 three-point tries per contest - just short of the school-record 17.2 mark set in 1996-97 - and has already taken its most shots from downtown (443) since attempting 492 in 1999-00.
Slow to Recover
UCSB opened the season 0-5 - its worst start since 1992-93 - and was outscored by an average of 16.5 points and outrebounded by 14.0 boards per game during that span. The Gauchos have never fully recovered statistically, with their scoring and rebounding margins both hovering "in the red" all season long. While Santa Barbara's two recent blowout wins have inched the squad close to positive territory offensively, its -1.7 deficit on the glass is especially surprising considering UCSB ranked seventh among all Division I teams at +8.6 rebounds last season.
Waiting in the Wings
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, UCSB announced the signing of two high school seniors to National Letters of Intent. Jordan Franey, a 6-0 forward from La Mesa, Calif., and Sacramento native Meagan Williams, a 5-10 guard, will join the Gauchos as true freshmen in 2006-07. Both were named to the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Junior First Team last season, with Williams also earning Sacramento Bee 2005 Player of the Year acclaim. She recently led Sheldon High School to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title with averages of 18.0 points and nine rebounds on the season, while Franey tallied 35 points and 14 boards in a San Diego Section Division III Championship game victory by Santana High School on March 4. In 2006-07 Santa Barbara will also gain the services of a pair of junior transfers who helped Baylor capture the 2005 NCAA Championship. Emily Niemann, a 6-1 forward, scored 19 points in the national title game against Michigan State en route to Final Four All-Tournament Team acclaim. In her two-year BU career, the Houston native averaged 9.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and a school-record 45.1% three-point percentage. Meanwhile 5-7 guard Chisa Ononiwu began practicing with the Gauchos in January and becomes eligible to compete following fall 2006 academic quarter at UCSB. Also a native of Houston, she averaged 1.3 points and 0.7 rebounds in 13 games as a Lady Bear freshman in 2004-05.
Taylor-James Leaves UCSB
On Monday, Nov. 14, head coach Mark French announced that 6'0" sophomore swing player Brittanie Taylor-James had left the Gaucho program due to personal reasons. The Evanston, Ill., native finished the fall academic quarter and is now seeking a transfer. In 2004-05 she averaged 2.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 22 games played, with a career-high of eight scored against UC Irvine on March 3, 2005.
Doozy of a Schedule
In the annual quest to make their non-conference schedule one of the toughest in the nation, the Gauchos have once again succeeded in 2005-06. UCSB played five games against teams which also reached the NCAA Tournament last year, including three straight to open the regular season. In addition to facing 2005 national runner-up Michigan State and Pac-10 champion Stanford, Santa Barbara hosted - and defeated - regional rivals UCLA and Pepperdine in the Thunderdome after not facing either school for more than a decade. Both of those squads recently earned automatic berths into the 2006 Big Dance.
On the Horizon
Should the Gauchos prevail in Anaheim, they will await announcement of the 64-team NCAA Tournament field on Monday, March 13. The brackets will be unveiled live on ESPN beginning at 4:00 p.m. UCSB participated in the Big Dance each of the past nine seasons and 11 times in program history.