Which UCSB women’s basketball team will show up in Las Vegas today for the quarterfinal round of the Big West Conference Tournament?
The one that Cal Poly blew out by 30 points on Friday? Or the one that beat the Mustangs by 10 the following night?
The wildly divergent results make the seventh-seeded Gauchos a wild-card opponent for No. 2 UC Irvine when they battle at 5 p.m. today at the Mandalay Bay Resort.
“Give credit to the players, there weren’t a lot of adjustments other than, ‘You can’t look like that,’” coach Bonnie Henrickson said of UCSB’s big turnaround. “There wasn’t any magic coming from me, I can tell you that right now. Nothing.
“We were obviously much better the second day and had the energy that we needed the first day to not get our butts blown out.”
A victory tonight would put the Gauchos (7-13, 7-9 Big West) into Thursday’s 3 p.m. semifinal against the winner of the No. 3 Long Beach State-No. 6 Cal Poly game.
UCSB has actually played much better than earlier in the season, winning five of its last seven games. It had lost 12 of its first 14, which included a pair of losses to Irvine (13-8, 11-4) in a conference-opening double-header at the Thunderdome.
Much of the improvement has been due to a pair of late-arriving Gauchos — 6-foot-2 Taylor Mole and 6-foot Megan Anderson — becoming acclimated to the rest of the team.
Mole, an Australian who transferred to UCSB from Colorado State, became eligible after the first four games. She received All-Big West honorable mention on Monday after leading the league in rebounds (9.4 per game) and ranking ninth in scoring (13.7 points).
Anderson, a transfer from San Jose State, has averaged 7.0 points with a team-best three-point percentage of .433 in the nine games since receiving medical clearance from an ankle injury.
“Getting healthier made a big difference for us … Getting Megan Anderson in the fold,” Henrickson said. “She was in a boot for about seven weeks. She adds another dimension to us.
“She was on a minute restriction. The first weekend, she was at three minutes. Then it went to eight minutes. I don’t think it was until the Riverside weekend that she was, ‘OK, let’s let her go.’”
Tonight’s game will pit two of the league’s top-four scorers in UCSB’s Doris Jones and UCI’s Kayla Williams.
Jones, a 5-9 senior, earned second-team All-Big West honors while ranking fourth in the league with an average of 14.4 points. She shot 39.5% from three-point distance and also averaged 6.3 rebounds.
“She draws everybody’s best defender, and that’s a challenge for her,” Henrickson said. “We try to set up screens and get her into her scoring positions. But she’s also done a good job of letting go of the ball because she draws a lot of attention.
“She can get to the rim, but when she draws so much traffic, then she’s got to let go of it.”
The Gauchos also have a veteran point guard in Danae Miller, who ranks 27th nationally with her assist-to-turnover ratio (3.9-to-1.6). Miller also boosted her scoring average to 11.8 points after celebrating her birthday with a 26-point performance on Saturday. Henrickson had told her to try for her age of 22.
“I shortchanged her four,” she said. “I was underestimating her birthday.”
UCI has been led by underclassmen. Williams, a 5-7 guard, won Big West Freshman of the Year honors after ranking third in the conference with an average of 14.8 points per game. Another freshman, 5-8 Chloe Webb, averages 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds.
“Tamara (Inoue) has done a great job,” Henrickson said, referring to the Anteaters’ Big West Co-Coach of the Year. “She’s got pieces and she’s got young players and an incredibly talented freshman class that’s really good.”
Sophia Locandro, a 6-3 sophomore from Australia, leads UCI up front with averages of 10.1 points, 5.0 rebounds.
“They’ve got size, they’ve got speed, they’ve got shooters, they’ve got playmakers,” Henrickson said. “They’ve got all you need.
“They’re aggressive defensively. They play full-court in stretches. They play quarter-court defenses really well. We’ve got our hands full, no doubt about it.”
The Anteaters edged the Gauchos 64-60 on Dec. 27 and then blew them out 69-56 the next night. UCI’s press and aggressive zone defense forced UCSB into 38 turnovers in the two games combined.
“They’re good on the ball, they’re good in passing lanes,” Henrickson said. “Kayla Williams is really disruptive at the top of it. She got a lot of deflections in turning us over.
“Both teams are a little bit different,” Henrickson added. “Both teams are better.”
Sometimes, that’s true from one night to another.