UCSB Heads To Anaheim Seeking First Big West Tournament Title In Three Years

UCSB Heads To Anaheim Seeking First Big West Tournament Title In Three Years

March 11, 2008

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2008 Big West Conference Tournament
Anaheim Convention Center (7,734) • Anaheim, Calif.

Wednesday, March 12 • First Round
No. 8 UC Irvine vs. No. 5 Cal Poly • 12:00 p.m.
No. 7 Long Beach State vs. No. 6 Cal State Fullerton • 2:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 13 • Quarterfinals
Lowest remaining seed vs. No. 3 UC Riverside • 12:00 p.m.
Highest remaining seed vs. No. 4 Pacific • 2:30 p.m.
Friday, March 14 • Semifinals
Lowest remaining seed vs. No. 1 UC Santa Barbara • 12:00 p.m.
Highest remaining seed vs. No. 2 UC Davis • 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 15 • Championship Game
12:00 p.m. • Televised live on Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket

That Time Of Year...
It's Big West Conference Tournament time and UC Santa Barbara will once again be shooting for the league's automatic bid into the 64-team NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship this weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center. The four-day event, which starts Wednesday, Mar. 12, rewards the top-two regular season finishers with a pair of byes and automatic advancement into the semifinal round. After winning its 12th regular season title in the last 13 years and earning the top seed in this year's tourney, UCSB will take the court in the first semifinal game on Friday at 12:00 p.m. against the lowest remaining seed. Santa Barbara, which won nine consecutive tournament titles before its run came to an end in 2006, has won 27 of its last 29 games in Big West Tournament play. After losing to UC Riverside in the championship game each of the last two seasons, the Gauchos will be looking to return to the Big Dance for the first time in three years.

For the Record
The Gauchos wrapped up the regular season with an overall record of 21-7 and ran away with the season title in the final two weeks, finishing with a 15-1 mark in Big West play. UCSB defeated Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State last week to put the finishing touches on an impressive conference season that featured just one loss (second place UC Davis defeated Santa Barbara 59-56 in overtime on Feb. 23). The 15-1 conference mark was the program's best finish since the 2003-04 squad went 17-1 in league play. With the victory over the Matadors, the Gauchos reached the 20-win mark for the first time since the 2004-05 campaign, when UCSB finished with an overall record of 21-9. After starting 4-6, Santa Barbara has now won 17 of its last 18 games entering postseason play.

Gauchos 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 is in his fourth season as the play-by-play voice of the Gauchos and he will have the call live from Anaheim as Santa Barbara pursues a 10th trip to the NCAA Tournament. Former UCSB and Los Angeles Lakers star Don Ford will offer his infinite wisdom while handling the color commentary duties. Gaucho fans can also listen to the action on KCSB 91.9 FM or watch games live via the internet by going to www.bigwest.tv and purchasing the UCSB season package. Finally, Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket will televise Saturday's championship game live at noon, with Bill MacDonald and Tracy Warren calling the action.

Wilson, Ononiwu Shine In Senior Day Victory
Playing in their final game in the Thunderdome, seniors Jessica Wilson and Chisa Ononiwu delivered Saturday, leading UCSB back from a 10-point second half deficit to defeat visiting Long Beach State 72-69 in the regular season finale. The duo started things off with their rendition of the National Anthem and continued to impress the Gaucho faithful on the court, as both players finished with a double-double in the senior day win. Wilson shot 10-of-17 from the field on the way to a season-high 26 points to lead all scorers, while hauling in game-highs of 10 rebounds and five assists. Ononiwu finished with 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting and also tallied 10 boards, which a tied career-high. The pair combined to score 43 of UCSB's 72 points in the game and teamed for 10 points during a decisive 13-5 Gaucho run as Santa Barbara came roaring back from a 55-45 hole with 15:18 remaining. The double-double was Wilson's fifth of the season and 12th for her career, while Ononiwu accomplished the feat for the first time in one of her last games in the blue and gold.

About The Coach
Mark French returned to his alma mater at the start of 1987-88 season and women's basketball at UC Santa Barbara has never been the same. In his 21st season as head coach of the Gauchos, French has had an immensely successful career, posting a record of 436-199 (.687) while at UCSB and an overall mark of 534-313 (.630). Since the 1991-92 campaign, a period spanning 16 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 three Postseason 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 was 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 and holds conference records for league wins and consecutive seasons at one school. French reached two major coaching milestones last season, winning his 400th victory at UCSB with a 78-67 Santa Barbara win over Pepperdine Dec.18 and then notched his 500th career victory overall when the Gauchos defeated Long Beach State Jan. 4.

Probable Starters - Notes
G - Sha'Rae Gibbons - Paces the team with 32 three-pointers made.
G - Lauren Pedersen - Leads the squad and ranks third in Big West dishing out 3.5 assists.
G - Jessica Wilson - UCSB's leading scorer and rebounder at 12.7 and 4.6, respectively.
F - Margaret Johnson - Finished with a career-high 14 points in win over CSUN last week.
F - Kat Suderman - Has scored in double figures 16 times in 2007-08.

Probable Reserves - Notes
G - Chisa Ononiwu - Averaging 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds over the last three games.
G - Meagan Williams - Shooting 44% (63-143) from the field this season.
G - Ariana Gnekow - Played 16 minutes in the victory over the Matadors.
F - Ashlee Brown - Tallied two double-doubles in the last four games.
F - Whitney Warren - Third on the squad averaging 4.7 boards against Big West competition.
F - Jordan Franey - Scored two points in 15 minutes against Long Beach State.
C - Jessie Goble - Finished with career-highs of 4 points and 2 blocks vs. Northridge.

Four Gauchos Earn All-Conference Honors, Wilson Named Player of the Year
After winning a 12th Big West regular season title in the last 13 years, UCSB had a total of four players selected to all-conference teams when the annual awards came out Monday. Senior guard Jessica Wilson was named the 2007-08 Big West Player of the Year after earning her first-career first team selection. The Sacramento, Calif. native led the Gauchos in both scoring (12.7) and rebounding (6.4) during the regular season and ranked in the Big West's Top 10 in five statistical categories, including scoring, rebounding, and steals. Joining Wilson on the first team was junior forward Kat Suderman, who had a career year after redshirting the 2006-07 campaign. Suderman appeared in 26 games for UCSB during the regular season and averaged career-highs in points (10.8), rebounds (4.9), field goal percentage (.473), blocked shots (19), and minutes per game (22.0). Sha'Rae Gibbons also had a breakout season and earned a spot on the All-Big West Honorable Mention squad for her performance. One of five Gauchos to appear in all 28 games, Gibbons ranked third on the team averaging 9.5 points per game, while dishing out 3.5 assists, a figure that ranks second. Lastly, Ashlee Brown was named to the Big West All-Freshman squad after averaging 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds during an outstanding rookie campaign. Brown leads the team shooting 49% from the field and has reached double figures a total of eight times in 2007-08.

Now That's Special
A day after four Gauchos were named to all-conference squads, UCSB took home two of the three Big West Specialty Awards as well. Junior Whitney Warren was named the conference's Defensive Player of Year, while Ashlee Brown took home Sixth Woman accolades. Warren appeared in 26 games for Santa Barbara during the regular season and ranked fifth on the team averaging 4.0 rebounds per game and fourth with 24 steals. The Lawndale, Calif. native recorded a season-high nine rebounds in the loss to UC Davis on Feb. 23. In addition to earning a spot on the All-Big West Freshman Team, Brown was named the conference's sixth woman after coming off the bench in 23 of her 28 games. She scored a career-high 22 points to lead UCSB to a 70-62 victory over UC Riverside on Mar. 1, a week after recording her first double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds in the loss to Davis. In addition to leading the squad in field goal percentage, Brown has recorded 10 blocks and 19 steals this season.

Back On Top
After failing to win at least a share of the Big West regular season title for the first time in 11 years last season, UCSB will head to Anaheim as the No. 1 seed once again in 2007-08. The Gauchos, who claimed the conference's top seed every year from 1996 through 2006, saw that streak come to an when they finished second in the conference standings behind UC Riverside a year ago. Playing as the No. 2 seed, Santa Barbara dispatched Cal State Fullerton 57-52 in the semifinals, but lost a 70-67 heart breaker to the Highlanders in the championship game for the second year in a row. With the No. 1 seed back in hand, UCSB has a 10th NCAA Tournament bid in the last 12 years in its sights.

This Is Our Time
While the Gauchos are just 2-2 in their last four Big West Tournament games and have not cut the nets down in Anaheim since 2005, UCSB is still the team to beat, historically speaking. As mentioned before, Santa Barbara enters the 2008 tourney winners of 27 of its last 29 games in tournament play and has a total of 34 tournament victories all-time -- more than any other team in the conference. Beginning in 1996, UCSB absolutely dominated the competition, winning 26 games in a row before a narrow loss to UC Riverside in the 2006 championship game brought that streak to a crashing halt. In the three years prior to its unprecedented run of nine consecutive crowns, the Gauchos had advanced no further than the Big West semifinals from 1994-96. UCSB also won league tourney titles in 1992 and 1993, turning the corner after posting a record of just 1-6 over the first six seasons of tournament play (1986-91).

Gauchos Find Their Three-Point Touch
UCSB has been a poor three-point shooting team in 2007-08, but the team found its stroke in the win over Long Beach State, shooting 40% (8-20) from beyond the arc. Jessica Wilson and Chisa Ononiwu finished with three triples apiece, while Lauren Pedersen sank two. Eight threes was the Gauchos' second-highest total of the season and most since they drained a season-best 11 in the 88-44 rout of Cal State Northridge on Jan. 5. Santa Barbara currently ranks sixth in the Big West in both three-point shooting percentage (.299) and threes made per game (4.5).

Shoot For 60
There is no questioning the fact that the Gauchos will need to play excellent defense if they want to hoist the Big West Tournament trophy this season. But at the same time, UCSB's offense has had a great deal to do with the team's success this season. Don't agree? Well, consider this: Santa Barbara is an impressive 18-2 when scoring 60 or more points this season and just 1-5 when failing to reach the 60-point mark. UC Davis held UCSB to just 56 points in overtime on Feb. 23 and became the only Big West squad to defeat the Gauchos this season. Furthermore, Santa Barbara has been extremely tough to beat when shooting better than 40% from the field, posting a record of 17-2 when that happens, compared to a 4-5 mark when shooting under 40%. In fact, UCSB has shot better than 40% in 11 of its last 13 games and posted a record of 12-1 over that span. If the Gauchos can dictate tempo and exert their will on the offense end, you've got to like their chances.

Board Games
Well, by now you should know that we can't talk barometers for UCSB's success without bringing rebounds into the conversation. Let's simplify things for those that are just tuning in: When the Gauchos get it done on the backboards, they are very tough to beat. Santa Barbara is an impressive 17-2 when out-rebounding its opponent this season and just 3-5 when the opposition controls the glass. The Gauchos have been one of the premiere teams in the Big West when it comes to rebounding all season and enter postseason play averaging 40.1 rebounds per game, a figure that ranks second in the conference. UCSB is even better at the other end of the floor, allowing a league-low 34 boards per game. Santa Barbara also leads the Big West and ranks 27th in the nation with an overall rebounding margin of +6.1.

At Home On the Road
UCSB has been more than comfortable playing outside of the Thunderdome in 2007-08, posting a record of 10-3 in true road games and a 1-1 mark in neutral site contests during the regular season. And while they have an identical 10-3 mark at home this season, the Gauchos have actually performed quite a bit better on the road. Santa Barbara enters Big West Tournament play shooting an impressive 46% from the field and averaging 71.5 points per game in road contests, as compared to a 38% clip from the floor and a per game average of just 67.3 points in home games. Furthermore, UCSB's three-highest scoring totals this season have all come away from home. The Gauchos scored 95 points in victory at Santa Clara Nov. 29, put up 88 in a blowout at Cal State Northridge Jan. 5, and tallied 79 in road victory over Loyola Marymount Nov. 19. While Santa Barbara won't be vying for the Big West Tournament crown in an opposing gym, the team's ability to perform away from home is definitely worth noting.

Quick Hits
The Gauchos won for just the fourth time this season when trailing at the half last week with the 72-69 victory over Long Beach State...They are now 4-7 when trailing at intermission and a perfect 17-0 when leading at the break... A total of eight players have led Santa Barbara in scoring this season with Jessica Wilson leading the way a team-high seven times...UCSB is a perfect 7-0 when four or more players reach double figures...The Gauchos have been very successful in close games in 2007-08, posting an impressive record of 14-3 in outcomes decided by 10 points or less and a 4-2 mark in games decided by five or less...Santa Barbara owns the Big West's top offense and enters Friday's semifinal round averaging a league-high 69.1 points per game...Defensively UCSB ranks third, allowing 64.4 points per contest...The Gauchos rank second in the Big West dishing out 14.8 assists per game.

Looking Ahead
Since I'm not a coach, this is allowed. 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 17. The brackets will be unveiled live on ESPN beginning at 4:00 p.m. UCSB has earned a trip to the Big Dance nine of the past 11 seasons and a total of 11 times in program history.

Wilson Watch
With a layup with 2:38 remaining in the Gauchos' 73-61 win over defending Big West champion UC Riverside Jan. 31, senior guard Jessica Wilson became the 22nd player in program history to score 1,000 points for her career. The Sacramento, Calif native began the season with 774 career points and has scored 344 through 28 games in 2007-08 after finishing with a season-high 26 against Long Beach State in the regular season finale Saturday. Currently sitting in the No. 19 spot on UCSB's all-time scoring charts with 1,118 career points, she now needs just 37 to pass Jess Hansen (1999-2003) for the 18th spot on the list. Wilson joins teammate Jenna Green as a member of the elite 1,000 point club and they became the first duo to reach the plateau together since Kristen Mann and Mia Fisher did so in 2003-04 and 2004-05. Green scored her 1,000-career point against Cal Poly on February 17, 2007 and currently ranks 17th on the all-time charts.

Gauchos Picked To Finish Second In Preseason Polls
For the first time in over a decade the Gauchos were not selected to win the Big West Conference regular season title by either the coaches or the media in voting conducted at the league's annual media day Oct. 25. UCSB finished second in both polls behind regular season and conference tournament champion UC Riverside, who received eight first place votes and 64 total points to capture the top spot in the preseason coaches' poll. Santa Barbara received one first place vote and 57 points, finishing a unanimous second. UC Davis was chosen to finish third with 44 points, while Cal Poly received the fourth place nod with 41. Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, Pacific, Cal State Northridge, and UC Irvine followed rounding out the poll. In the media poll, the Gauchos received one first place vote and 81 total points to finish second behind the Highlanders, who garnered nine first place votes and 89 points. Complete results of the voting can be seen at the bottom left of this page.

Green, Wilson Tabbed Preseason All-Conference
When the media selected a Preseason All-Big West Team at this year's annual media day, UCSB had two players selected, marking the sixth consecutive year a Gaucho made the squad. Senior center Jenna Green earned one of the six spots for a third consecutive year after earning All-Big West First Team honors last season. The San Jose, Calif. native led the Gauchos in points (16.6), rebounds (7.1), and blocked shots (1.7) for the second straight year, while shooting a league-best 53.7% from the field in 2006-07. Green was the only player to start all 33 games for UCSB last season. Also earning a nod for the preseason all-conference squad was senior guard Jessica Wilson. Wilson led the Big West averaging 4.5 assists and finished in the conference's top 10 in six major statistical categories. The Sacramento, Calif. native earned a second consecutive Second Team All-Big West selection after averaging 13.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in 31 games a year ago.

UCSB Inks Two For 2008-09
UC Santa Barbara signed a pair of high school seniors to National Letters of Intent during the early signing period, head coach Mark French announced Nov. 16. Emilie Johnson, a 5'6" point guard from Roseville, Calif. and Megan Kritscher, a 6'3" forward from Woodland, Calif. will join the Gauchos for the 2008-09 season as true freshmen. Johnson is in her senior season at Del Oro High School in Roseville, where she was named the 2006-07 Sierra Foothill League MVP after averaging 15.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 3.2 steals, while shooting 43% from the field as a junior last season. The only junior to earn a spot on the Sacramento Bee All-Metro First Team, Johnson led the Golden Eagles to 26-2 record and a third consecutive SFL championship a year ago. She is a three-time all-league selection and was named the Sonora Kiwanis Tournament MVP as a sophomore in 2006. Kritscher signs with UCSB after averaging 12.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 5.5 blocked shots per game as a junior at Pioneer High School last season. An All-Tri-County League selection, Kritscher scored a career-best 22 points while hauling in 11 rebounds and blocking three shots to lead the Patriots to a 44-30 victory over rival Woodland High School last year and recorded a career-high 10 blocks in a game against Inderkum. She was also an all-league performer in volleyball for PHS last season.