Gauchos Host Cal Poly, UCR With Postseason on The Line

Bonnie Henrickson (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Bonnie Henrickson (Photo by Tony Mastres)

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The Schedule
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara (6-20, 3-10) vs. Cal Poly (6-18, 3-10)
The Thunderdome – Santa Barbara, Calif.
All-Time Record vs. the Mustangs: 54-29
Last Meeting: L, 75-67 @ CP (1/12/19)
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Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara (6-20, 3-10) vs. UC Riverside (14-12, 8-4)
The Thunderdome – Santa Barbara, Calif.
All-Time Record vs. the Highlanders: 26-23
Last Meeting: L, 73-60 @ UCR (2/2/19)
Tough Losses on the Road
After entering last week's road trip a winner in two of its last three games, UC Santa Barbara's late-season surge came to a halt, as the Gauchos fell at Cal State Fullerton, 74-62 and Long Beach State, 62-53. In both contests, UCSB entered the fourth quarter in a tie ball game, but would be outplayed down the stretch, especially from the free throw line. Santa Barbara went a combined 5-of-9 (.556) from the line over the two games, while its opponents went 38-for-47 (.809).
Big West Picture
With just two weekends of regular season competition left, the Gauchos (6-20, 3-10) enter Wednesday's Blue-Green showdown with Cal Poly (6-18, 3-10) essentially in a must-win situation. With a loss, UCSB would need to win its remaining two games against UC Riverside (Saturday) and at UC Davis (Mar. 9), while also needing either Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton to lose out in order to clinch a berth in the Big West Tournament. A win would put the Gauchos' destiny back in their own hands, putting them a game ahead of the Mustangs for the eighth and final spot.
Blue-Green Rivalry Preview
Perhaps it's fitting that the final meeting of the season between perennial rivals UCSB and Cal Poly will be the most significant one yet for either team. The Mustangs defeated the Gauchos 75-67 back on Jan. 12, meaning Cal Poly has the potential to claim a season sweep and own the tiebreaker with UCSB outright for one of the Big West's final postseason seeds. In that first meeting, the Gauchos' starting backcourt trio of Coco Miller, Danae Miller and Bri Anugwom nearly brought their team back from a 14-point deficit, combining for 57 of UCSB's 67 points on 51.3 percent shooting (20-39 FG). Coco Miller had one of the best games of her career, putting up a career-high 33 points and making 6-of-10 three-pointers. However, the rest of the team struggled, shooting just 25 percent (4-16 FG) from the field, while Cal Poly managed to make half of its 54 shot attempts for the game. While the Gauchos have dominated the all-time series 54-29, that win gave the Mustangs an extremely favorable 12-3 edge through their last 15 meetings.
With this potentially being by far the most significant game of the year for the Gauchos, there are a few reasons to be optimistic about their chances. While it hasn't been a great season for UCSB overall, the Gauchos have been much better at home than they have been on the road, especially of late. Santa Barbara enters Wednesday with a 4-8 record at the Thunderdome and on a two-game home winning streak, with recent huge wins over CSUN (61-60 on Feb. 9) and UC Irvine (71-52 on Feb. 16), two of the conference's top teams. Cal Poly meanwhile has dropped seven consecutive on the road, and is just 1-11 away from home this year. The Gauchos could also benefit from applying extra pressure and getting out on the break against a Mustang team which ranks dead last during conference play in turnover margin (-4.0) and points allowed (70.8 ppg).
Riverside vs. Beachside
On Saturday, the Gauchos face a UC Riverside team which defeated UCSB 73-60 back on Feb. 2. The Highlanders are the ony Big West team that has had two 20-point scorers against the Gauchos this year, as Jannon Otto and Malou de Kergret went for 26 and 20 points, respectively, in the win. Tal Sahar had one of her best games this year at UCR, leading UCSB with 18 points on 7-for-14 from the field. Riverside has been one of the hottest teams in the conference in recent weeks, going 7-1 over its last eight games.
It's Miller Time
Depending on how hard defenses have keyed in on redshirt junior guard Coco Miller, her numbers have either risen or dropped significantly. Over her last nine games, she has scored 15 or more points four times and has scored five or fewer points five times. She has crossed the 20-point mark just once in her last 11 efforts, but that could change on Wednesday against Cal Poly, a team she has averaged 21.3 points per contest against since the start of her sophomore year. Miller has absolutely torched the Mustangs from the outside in her career, connecting on 48.5 percent (16-33 3FG) of her three-point attempts. The San Clemente, Calif. native remains one of the conference's leading scorers, coming in seventh at 12.7 points per game, and she has made the second-most three-pointers (50) in the Big West. Her success has led to team success this year – she is averaging 20.2 points per game on 48.2 percent shooting in wins, compared to 10.4 points on 27.2 percent shooting in losses.
Staying Aggressive
Entering the season, point guard Danae Miller might have been considered more of a facilitator than a scorer, but she has struck a fine balance between the two so far in 2019. The sophomore has been UCSB's leading playmaker (3.9 apg) and second-leading scorer (12.3 ppg) during conference play, being aggressive on her drives to the basket while still managing to set up her teammates as the team's primary ball handler. Following a superb week in which she averaged 18.5 points on 50 percent shooting (9-18 FG) and went 16-for-18 (.889) from the charity stripe, Miller had an off week in two road games, averaging just 6.5 points on 26.1 percent (6-23 FG) from the field with no free throw attempts.
Getting Hot At The Right Time?
It hasn't been a great shooting year for redshirt junior Tal Sahar, who was tabbed as one of the team's most talented scorers entering the year. However, the talented guard has gotten on track in recent games. Her 29 points over her last three are six more than she scored in the entire month of January, as she has scored eight or more points in three straight games for the third time this season. She enters Wednesday's game having made five of her last 12 three-point attempts, or 41.7 percent. If she can keep that up, it will be a huge boost for a Gaucho team which is shooting a conference-worst 25.8 percent from range this season.
Pink Game!
Anyone wearing pink at Wednesday's game against Cal Poly will have free admission as part of UCSB women's basketball's Breast Cancer Awareness Night.