March 14, 2006
2006 Postseason Women's National Invitation Tournament Preliminary Round
Thursday, March 16, 2006 7:00 p.m. Fresno, CA Save Mart Center (15,621)
- UC Santa Barbara at Fresno State -
2005-06 Gaucho Record
16-13 overall/10-4 Big West Conference
10-3 home/5-9 away/1-1 neutral
Gaucho-Bulldog Winner Plays UNLV on March 18
For the 11th consecutive year, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball will play basketball through at least mid-March, as the Gauchos have been selected to participate in the 40-team Women's National Invitation Tournament. UCSB will open tourney play on Thursday, March 16 with a preliminary round game at Fresno State (22-7 overall). Tip-off is slated for 7:00 p.m. in FSU's Save Mart Center. The winner of the Gaucho-Bulldog showdown advances to face UNLV in first round action on Saturday, March 18, with the host school and time yet to be determined. Interestingly, UCSB's last postseason appearance also occurred in the Save Mart Center, where it fell 61-51 to Notre Dame in the opening round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
Gauchos on the Air and Web
The UCSB-FSU clash will be broadcast live on KIST 1340 AM with "Showtime" Steve Wendt handling play-by-play duties and Ben Alkaly attempting color commentary. Their broadcast begins 15 minutes prior to tip-off with the "Gaucho Pregame Show", and can also be heard live via the internet by pointing your browser to www.ucsbgauchos.com and purchasing the "UCSB All-Access Pass". Meanwhile Fresno State will offer live streaming video via a subscription service as well as live "Gametracker" scoring through its website, www.gobulldogs.com.
UCSB's National Invitation Tournament History
Santa Barbara will make its second appearance in the Postseason Women's National Invitation Tournament, with the first coming in 1996 when it was an eight-team event held in Amarillo, Texas. There the Gauchos 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. UCSB has also enjoyed success in its two Preseason WNIT appearances, advancing to the championship game in 2000 and semifinals in 2004; both of those tournaments featured 16-team fields.
Gauchos' Streak of Big West Tourney Titles Ends at Nine
The Gauchos found themselves in an unfamiliar position on Saturday, March 11, falling in the Big West Tournament for the first time since 1996, thus snapping their 26-game winning streak in the league's annual event. With her team trailing 57-56 and 1:10 to play in the Big West Championship game, freshman Amber Cox buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to give fourth-seeded UC Riverside a one-point lead over UCSB. The two teams then traded missed opportunities before top-seeded Santa Barbara had the ball and a chance to win with 12 seconds remaining. Sophomore Jessica Wilson drove to the hoop but saw her layup draw iron, and the clock expired before UCSB could attempt another shot. The Highlanders - winners of nine straight games - stormed the Anaheim Convention Center court after prevailing 59-58 to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. In the Big West semifinal round on Friday, March 10, the Gauchos trailed seventh-seeded Cal State Northridge 55-53 with under five minutes to play before consecutive baskets by freshmen Whitney Warren and LaShay Fears put UCSB back on top for good. Santa Barbara defeated CSUN for the 17th straight time despite committing 20 turnovers. Gaucho sophomores Jenna Green and Jessica Wilson were both selected to the Big West All-Tournament Team following Saturday's championship game.
Regular Season Conference Dominance
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 regular season 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.
Probable Starters Notes #34 Autumn Nichols Sr. F Matched career high of 10 rebounds in Big West semis #33 Jenna Green So. C Double-digit scorer in 24 different contests this season #2 Whitney Warren Fr. G/F Will make second straight start in place of injured Bonds #22 Erin O'Bryan Jr. G Shooting just 20.0% (12-of-60) over her previous 13 games #40 LaShay Fears Fr. G Has started all but one game as a true freshman
Reserves Notes #5 Jessica Wilson So. G Will miss WNIT opener due to left hand injury #10 Kim Smith Fr. G Did not take the court during Big West tourney #23 Ana Onaindia So. G 22 of her 26 baskets this season have been three-pointers #32 Karena Bonds Sr. G Injured ankle in Big West semis and will not play at FSU #35 Shantel Thomas Fr. F Has appeared in 24 games during her freshman campaign #42 Kat Suderman So. F/C 6.1 rebounds per game are tied for 11th in Big West
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 396-177 (.691) and an overall mark of 493-290 (.630). 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 in 2004 - as well as two 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 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.
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 (52.9%) and scoring (14.7 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 6.8 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. Unfortunately, both Wilson and Bonds will miss at least Thursday's WNIT opener due to injury.
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.
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 year long. However Santa Barbara is making progress in both categories, aided by +13.3 scoring and +6.3 rebounding advantages over its last four contests to move within one point and one rebound of being in positive territory. UCSB's deficit on the glass is especially surprising considering UCSB ranked seventh among all Division I teams at +8.6 rebounds last season.
On Thursday the Gauchos will face a Fresno State squad that can boast a 13-1 home record and second-place Western Athletic Conference finish (14-2) but was upset 74-66 by New Mexico State in the league tournament quarterfinals on March 8. The Bulldogs - playing in the Postseason WNIT for a second straight year - are led by senior forward Amy Parrish's 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. UCSB and FSU were formerly rivals in the Big West, with the Bulldogs holding a 17-8 advantage in the all-time series. The last meeting occurred on Dec. 12, 1993, with Santa Barbara winning 82-59 in the Thunderdome. The two squads played five common opponents this season - Arizona, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Cal State Fullerton and Stanford - with the Bulldogs posting a 4-1 record against that group and the Gauchos going 5-4.
Home is Where the Wins Are
It appears as though the Gauchos have played their final home game of 2005-06, which is bad news for the defending Big West champs because they have clearly been at their best within the friendly confines of the Thunderdome. UCSB averaged 71.2 points and 40.8% shooting during its 13 home games compared to just 58.6 points and a 35.6% field goal mark in 16 road and neutral-site contests. Santa Barbara's highest point total since the 2002-03 campaign - 90 en route to a Dec. 17 upset of No. 24 UCLA - as well as its three most efficient shooting efforts all came in the Thunderdome. In 2005-06 the Gauchos recorded double-digit home wins for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.
The Gauchos are playing an aggressive brand of defense this season, racking up double-digit steals in 12 different games and averaging nearly 10 per contest. As a comparison, UCSB reached the 10-steal plateau just eight times in all of 2004-05. Santa Barbara was at its most kleptomatic during the regular season finale against Cal State Northridge on March 4, swiping the ball 19 times. That was the highest total by a Gaucho team in over five years, since also nabbing 19 during a March 7, 2001 win over Cal State Fullerton.
A team three-point shooting percentage of 26.0% 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 29 games, including 20-plus trifectas eight times. Santa Barbara is averaging 16.6 three-point tries per contest - just short of the school-record 17.2 mark set in 1996-97 - and has taken its most shots from downtown (481) since attempting 492 in 1999-00.
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.
Who Are We?
Please use "UC Santa Barbara" as a first reference to the school; no hyphens, commas, nor the words "California" or "Cal" are needed. Afterwards, "UCSB", "Gauchos" and "Santa Barbara" are all acceptable references to our campus by the sea and the teams which represent it.
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
Following the Postseason WNIT first round vs. UNLV on March 18, a possible second round matchup with Kansas State or Idaho State looms sometime between March 19 and 21. The entire tournament is being played at home sites of participating schools, with the championship game held on or before March 31.