It hasn’t been the best of seasons so far for the Big West Conference in women’s basketball.
Just one team, Cal State Fullerton (8-5), has a winning record.
While it might seem like not a lot has gone right for the nine teams, including UCSB (5-8), the numbers can be a bit deceiving at times. Hawaii (6-7), for instance, has played four schools from three power conferences — Texas, Washington, North Carolina State and Oregon State. The Rainbow Wahine even beat Texas and Washington.
But one fact remains perfectly clear with the conference: There will be only one team going to the NCAA Tournament — just like in past seasons for as far back as one can remember — and that team will be the one that wins the conference’s postseason tournament in March.
Big West play begins tonight for all but one team, and for the Gauchos, they host the conference’s only squad that is above .500.
“We’re going to play Fullerton because that’s what the conference schedule computer spit out,” UCSB coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “We’re playing Fullerton, which is fine. We would have to play them eventually.”
Tonight’s game at the Thunderdome begins at 7 p.m.
As for the tough sledding so far for the Big West teams, Henrickson pointed out that the league is going through a facelift of sorts, which certainly could be a plausible reason why there haven’t been as many wins as the teams would have liked.
“There have been so many good seniors the last couple of years — and we’ve had our fair share, as well — that the league looks a little bit different now,” Henrickson said. “I think we’re all trying to figure out, individually, what are we trying to do? You can watch teams and try to figure it out. I think Fullerton has it figured out. There are a lot of new pieces.
“There is parity up and down with the rosters, and I think there are quality teams in the league. I think if we went through all of the rosters, I think there are challenges for all the teams.”
One of those challenges, according to Henrickson, is with the newcomers.
“There are young players still trying to figure it out,” she said. “We’ve got that. You’ve got some players who have been injured. A lot of teams have got some players who have been dinged up and they’re waiting to see if they come back.”
A newcomer to the Big West this season who will definitely be a focus for opposing coaches is UCSB freshman center Ila Lane.
The native of Moraga is off to a phenomenal start to her career, averaging a double-double of 14.4 points and 12.8 rebounds per game.
“I do think there have been situations where there’s a game plan to try to take some opportunities away from her,” Henrickson said. “It’s been fast for her, and it’s been physical. She hasn’t seen everything yet, but she has seen a lot for a young post player.
“(Fullerton) will have a plan to try to defend her, no doubt. That’s where she’s got to have poise and composure, and we’ve got to understand as a group what’s going on around her. Being aggressive and playing confident and playing with discipline can be an awfully important way to attack any defense, whatever it is.”
Lane has been a student of the Division I game since she arrived on campus over the summer. It’s one big reason why she has been so effective in such a short period of time.
“I’m lucky enough to have the previous games to look back on and understand where I can improve and where to look for the double-teams and just how to play my defenders,” Lane said.
“I’m ready. I feel ready. I feel that we have a good inside-out offense. We work inside and get the ball outside, and with other teams looking at me, it opens up things for some of our other players.”
UCSB broke a four-game losing streak with its Dec. 30 victory over NAIA opponent Ottawa University of Arizona. Fullerton, meantime, enters tonight’s game at the Thunderdome riding a four-game winning streak.
“I think opening up with Fullerton, offensively, they’re very impressive,” Henrickson said.
“(Raina Perez, 22.5 points per game) is better and more aggressive than she was last year. (Taylor Turney, 13.4 points per game), the transfer from San Jose State, she’s really allowed Perez to do a little bit more. She’s a facilitator and a scorer. So, offensively, they’re really efficient.”
Along with Fullerton, Hawaii and UCSB, Long Beach State and UC Davis begin conference play tonight with 5-8 records. Cal State Northridge is 5-9; UC Irvine and UC Riverside are 4-10; and Cal Poly is 3-8.
In other words, the race for the Big West regular-season title and No. 1 seed for the conference postseason tournament is as wide open as it’s been in recent memory.
“We’re looking to have a place and be a top competitor in this league,” Lane said. “We just want to make a big statement and show that we are competition out there. We’re excited to play.”