UCSB Opens Postseason WNIT at San Diego Thursday

UCSB Opens Postseason WNIT at San Diego Thursday

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2007 Postseason WNIT Bracket in PDF Format
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March 13, 2007

The Schedule
Game No. 32
Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 7:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at University of San Diego Toreros
Jenny Craig Pavilion (5,100)

Postseason Streak Continues
While the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team just missed claiming a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, the Gauchos will make a 12th consecutive postseason appearance after earning an automatic bid into the 48-team Women's National Invitation Tournament field. UCSB will open WNIT play on Thursday, March 15 at the University of San Diego (21-8 overall). Tip-off is slated for 7:00 p.m. in USD's Jenny Craig Pavilion. The winner of the Gaucho-Torero showdown advances to play at Oregon in the second round, which runs from March 16-19. A date for that game has not been determined. Santa Barbara's string of postseason appearances began with a WNIT berth in 1996, followed by nine straight trips to the Big Dance before the Gauchos qualified for the WNIT again in 2006.

The Gaucho Record
The Gauchos enter the WNIT with an overall record of 18-13 after defeating Cal State Fullerton 57-52 last Friday in the Big West Conference Tournament Semifinals only to fall to UC Riverside 70-67 in the title game for the second year in a row Saturday. UCSB finished second in the league standings at 10-4 and failed to capture the Big West's No. 1 seed for the first time since the 1994-95 season. Saturday marked Santa Barbara's 11th consecutive appearance in the conference championship. The Gauchos, who have not dropped consecutive games since Dec. 20 and 28, were a very impressive 9-3 in true road games during the regular season.

UCSB on the Air & Web
The UCSB-USD clash will be broadcast live on KIST 1340 AM in Santa Barbara. Steve Wendt is in his third year as the play-by-play voice of the Gauchos and will have the call alongside former Los Angeles Laker and UCSB star Don Ford, who will handle the color commentary. Broadcasts begin 15 minutes prior to tip-off with the "Gaucho Pregame Show". Fans can also catch all 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.

Santa Barbara in the WNIT
The Gauchos will make their second consecutive appearance in the Postseason Women's National Invitation Tournament and third overall Thursday against the Toreros. Last season UCSB drew Fresno State in the Preliminary Round and lost a 78-59 decision to the Bulldogs despite 12 points and eight rebounds from Whitney Warren. The Gauchos first appearance in the Postseason WNIT came in 1996 when it was an eight-team event held in Amarillo, Texas. UCSB suffered a 77-73 overtime loss to LSU before rebounding with victories over Western Kentucky (77-61) and Illinois State (69-68) to win the consolation bracket. Santa Barbara has also enjoyed success in its two Preseason WNIT appearances, advancing to the championship game in 2000 and semifinals in 2003; both of those tournaments featured 16-team fields. Santa Barbara posted a convincing 82-44 victory over San Diego in the Preseason WNIT opening round in 2003 in the Thunderdome.

Gauchos Come Up Short In Big West Title Game, 70-67
UC Riverside's Seyram Gbewonyo scored a game-high 23 points and Kemie Nkele added 18 to lead the Highlanders to a 70-67 victory over UCSB in the Big West Conference Tournament Championship at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena March 10. The loss marked the Gauchos' second consecutive defeat at the hands of the Highlanders in the conference title game and fifth straight overall. Jenna Green scored 21 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor to lead four Gauchos in double figures. Chisa Ononiwu scored 15 on 4-of-7 three-point shooting, while Jordan Franey scored 11 and LaShay Fears added 10. With Santa Barbara holding a 64-62 lead, Gbewonyo drained her fourth three of the afternoon to give the Highlanders a 65-64 advantage with 2:36 left. Roney Friend's layup with 1:06 seconds remaining gave the Highlanders a three-point cushion, but Franey connected on a three with 44 seconds left to even the score at 67-67. UCR would respond again with Gbewonyo connecting from the right wing to give the Highlanders the lead for good, 69-67. After a Santa Barbara time out, Ononiwu got a great look from the right corner, but the shot missed too far to the left and Riverside held on for its second-ever BWT title. UCR shot 49.1%, including 63.6% (7-11) from beyond the arc, which was the third-highest total in the history of the Big West Tournament. UCSB shot 39.3% and made 9-of-20 from three-point range. The Highlanders led for a total of 43 seconds before Gbewonyo's triple with 2:36 remaining.

Probable Starters - Notes
3 • Chisa Ononiwu • Jr. • G - Scored 15 points on 4-of-7 3-pt shooting vs. Riverside last week.
5 • Jessica Wilson • Jr. • G - Averaged nine rebounds and seven assists in two tourney games.
40 • LaShay Fears • So. • G - Went 4-for-9 with 10 points in season-high 37 minutes vs. UCR.
2 • Whitney Warren • So. • F - Third on the squad shooting 45% in 2006-07.
33 • Jenna Green • Jr. • C - Made 11-of-14 shots and finished with 27 points in win over CSUF.

Probable Reserves - Notes
14 • Jordan Franey • Fr. • G - Leads Gauchos with 42 three-pointers made in 2006-07.
21 • Meagan Williams • Fr. • G - Was 1-for-2 for two points against Titans and Highlanders.
12 • Ariana Gnekow • Fr. • G/F - Played a total of one minute during the Big West Tournament.
25 • Jessica Goble • Fr. • C - Appeared just once in UCSB's last seven contests.
55 • Ashley Hall • Fr. • F - Grabbed one rebound in last appearance at Northridge March 3.
11 • Sha'Rae Gibbons • So. • G - Scored for the first time since Dec. 9 in one minute vs. CSUN.

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 414-191 (.684) while at UCSB and an overall mark of 512-305 (.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, March 5. 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).

There's No Place Like the Road?
While the Santa Barbara coaching staff and a number of the Gaucho faithful would have rather had a home game in the first round of the WNIT, its not a bad thing for UCSB to hitting the road for a third consecutive week. 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, the Gauchos were 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. The Gauchos are 1-1 after playing their first two neutral site contests last week in the Big West Tournament.

Scouting the Toreros
• UCSB opens WNIT play against the University of San Diego in a first round contest Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. UCSB and USD have met a total of seven times with the Gauchos holding a 5-2 record in the all-time series. In the last meeting between the two schools, Santa Barbara posted a convincing 82-44 victory over San Diego in the Preseason WNIT Nov. 15, 2003 in the Thunderdome. Kristen Mann led the way with 15 points and eight rebounds. The Toreros were 5-1 against the Big West Conference this season, posting victories over Cal State Northridge (95-77), UC Riverside (68-53), Pacific (72-67), Cal Poly (74-69), and Cal State Fullerton (47-36), and losing to Long Beach State (53-37).

• San Diego enters Thursday's matchup coming off the most successful season in program history, finishing 21-8 overall and second in the West Coast Conference for the first time ever at 10-4. Despite the Toreros' best start as a Division I program -- winning their first six games of the year -- and first 20-win season, San Diego was upset by the University of San Francisco 80-69 in the first round of the WCC Tournament March 1. The Toreros claimed an automatic WNIT bid by virtue of their second-place finish in the regular season standings just like the Gauchos. USD shoots 40.8% from the field, while their opposition has shot 39.6% in 29 games this season. 6'5" senior center Amber Sprague leads the team averaging 14.8 points per game to go with a team-high 8.0 rebounds, 58 blocks, and a 45.4% mark from the floor. Sophomore guard Kelly Winther is second averaging 11.0 points and leads San Diego with 36 three-pointers made, while junior Amanda Rego has put up an average of 9.1 points and dished out a team-best 7.7 assists per game. USD has lost three of its last four and owns an impressive 13-4 (76.5%) record at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

Green Machine
After leading all scorers with 27 points in UCSB's semifinal win over Cal State Fullerton and then scoring a team-high 21 in the loss to UC Riverside in the Big West Tournament championship last week, junior center Jenna Green now has 10 performances with 20 or more points this season. She also tallied seven rebounds in each game and the 27-point effort was two shy of her career-best set Feb. 17 against Cal Poly. Green leads UCSB averaging 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds and has recorded a team-high 51 blocked shots in 2006-07. The San Jose, Calif. native also leads the squad shooting 54.3% from the floor and has scored in double-figures in all but four games this season. She is second on the squad in minutes played, averaging 31 per contest. As far as Big West statistics go, Green led the conference in field goal percentage, ranked second in scoring and blocks, and eighth in rebounding. The junior currently ranks 18th on the UCSB all-time scoring charts with 1,122 career points and is 33 points shy of Jess Hansen (1993-2003) in the 17th spot.

Sharing the Wealth
Even though she struggled shooting the ball during the Big West Tournament, making just 2-of-11 shots in both games against the Titans and Highlanders, junior guard Jessica Wilson was extremely effective in other areas of the game. The Sacramento, Calif. native finished two points and one assists shy of a first-career triple-double in the win over Fullerton, tallying eight points, a game-high 13 rebounds, and nine assists. She then had five rebounds, four assists, and four steals in Saturday's loss to Riverside. Despite two of her poorer performances scoring-wise, Wilson has scored in double figures in 20 of the 28 games she has played in in 2006-07. The Big West's assist leader at 4.62 per night, Wilson also owns the conference's best single game performance this season with 12 vs. Pacific Jan. 27. Wilson ranked fourth in the league in steals, averaging 1.97 per game, ninth in field goal percentage (.428), 11th in rebounding (6.8), 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 36.2% (25-69) of her threes and shot 43% this season.

There is no question that junior guard Chisa Ononiwu has given the Gauchos a lift the last 22 games. A very reliable third scoring option, Ononiwu has scored in double figures in 16 of her 22 games since becoming eligible Dec. 18, including the last four after scoring less than 10 in four out of five from Feb. 8-24. Despite playing with a facial mask after suffering a broken nose in practice two weeks ago, Ononiwu had an excellent showing at her first Big West Tournament last week. She went 5-for-11 with 12 points, six rebounds, and three assists in the win over the Titans and made 4-of-7 shots from distance (5-of-14 overall) for 15 points to go with five boards in the narrow loss to the Highlanders. The Houston, Tex. native is third on the team averaging 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per night. Ononiwu is second in field goal percentage (46.3%) and three-point shooting (38.5%). The Gauchos are 15-7 (.682) 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 Thursday's contest averaging 9.2 points per game and is second on the squad with 40 three-pointers made. Fears leads the team and ranked sixth in the Big West averaging 33.8 minutes per game in 2006-07 and is second dishing out over three assists. Fears has scored in double figures a total of 11 times this season -- including four of the last five -- and the Gauchos have a 7-4 record in those games. The Palmdale, Calif. native was just 1-for-4 from the field with three points in Friday's win over Cal State Fullerton, but responded with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, with four assists, three rebounds, and a steal in Saturday's defeat at the hands of UC RIverside.

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.

Another Streak Falls
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 and entered 2006-07 hungry to reestablish them. Unfortunately, Santa Barbara has fallen short in pursuit of a number of those goals. After UCSB saw its streak of nine consecutive Big West Tournament titles come to a crashing halt with a narrow loss to UC Riverside in the title game a year ago, the Gauchos finished second in the league standings this season at 10-4 and did not capture the No. 1 seed in the Big West tourney for the first time since 1994-95. With its bid for a 12th consecutive Big West regular season title denied, the Gauchos advanced to an 11th straight conference title game, but fell to the Highlanders yet again. Santa Barbara has now lost two consecutive automatic bids into the NCAA Tournament field of 65 at the hands of Riverside.

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
As mentioned above, should the Gauchos defeat San Diego, the University of Oregon awaits in the WNIT Second Round. UCSB would play the Ducks in Eugene, Ore. either Saturday, March 17 or Sunday March 18. A game time has yet to be determined.