UCSB’s short-handed women’s basketball team got a helping hand from the NCAA’s Division 1 Council on Wednesday.
The Gauchos, who have had only eight players available so far this season, will soon add two accomplished shooters — juniors Megan Anderson and Taylor Mole — thanks to the council’s vote which grants immediate eligibility to all qualifying transfers. They normally would sit out one season as a redshirt.
UCSB’s entire team broke out in cheers when coach Bonnie Henrickson broke the news during Wednesday’s practice at the Thunderdome.
“It was a day of relief and excitement and joy for so many athletes, and of course for our two,” she said. “They hung in there and have worked their butts off to get better and get comfortable with how we try to play.
“They have great attitudes, are quality young people and good students. Even though they haven’t played yet, they’ve been tremendous additions.”
Neither player will be available when UCSB (0-2) plays host to Santa Clara (1-2) for consecutive, 5 p.m. games tonight and Saturday. The two transfers — Anderson from San Jose State and Mole from Colorado State — must first receive certification of their academic units and progress toward graduation, Henrickson said.
She’s hoping they can suit up for either the Gauchos’ Big West Conference home openers against UC Irvine on Dec. 27 and 28, or their Jan. 1 and 2 games at Cal State Fullerton.
Anderson, a 6-foot wing player, set a single-season record at San Jose State when she made 43.8% of her three-pointers (46-for-105) during her freshman year. Her career mark of 40.3% is also the school record. She ranks second in career threes with 185 and would have easily broken the school record of 199 had she stayed at San Jose.
Mole, a 6-2 wing player from Australia, shot 34.8% from three last season while playing in 27 of Colorado State’s 30 games. She scored her season-high of 12 points against Incarnate Word.
“They both can really shoot it,” Henrickson said. “They’re also both starting to put the ball on the floor when they’re run off the line — they’re not just sitting out there, but also getting to the rim. Their shot selection is good and they’re both unselfish players.”
They were used on the scout teams to prepare the Gauchos for their games against UCLA and Cal Baptist, Henrickson said, but also have been integrated into the player rotation during workouts.
“The others are learning how to play with them and how to use them, especially since they both shoot it so well,” she said.
They will add needed length to a team in which all but one player — 6-4 senior Natalia Bruening — are under 6-feet in height. All-American Ila Lane, a 6-4 center who led the nation in rebounding last year, is among three Gauchos who have opted out of this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Taylor is really long and Megan is long and athletic,” Henrickson said. “Megan has done a great job on the glass in practice and Taylor has blocked a lot of shots. She gets a lot of deflections.
“We could see right when they started working out with us that they’d be able to step in and make contributions on both ends of the floor.”
UCSB will face a challenge from a physical Santa Clara team which averages 11.3 offensive rebounds per game. Ashlyn Herlihy, a 6-1 senior from Arroyo Grande, leads the Broncos with averages of 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. She starts up front with 6-1 senior Merle Wiehl of Germany.
“Both of their posts are physical while ours are more like stretch-fours,” Henrickson said. “They’ve got more depth at the four and the five than we do, too.”
Santa Clara’s road games have all been on the road against Big West competition — a 59-49 win at Cal State Bakersfield, and losses of 57-56 and 70-59 at Cal Poly.
The Gauchos have been led by a pair of senior guards. Danae Miller, a two-time All-Big West selection, is averaging 18.0 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 35% from the three-point line. Doris Jones, a transfer from Diablo Valley Community College, is at 17.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 46.2% from three.
“We had Doris in practice with us last year, and she’s really improved since then,” Henrickson said. “She understands what we’re trying to do, get into motion and move the ball.
“She and Danae are both playmakers who are capable three-point shooters. That makes them harder to guard because you have to make a hard close-out on them.”
Westmont College will also play host to basketball games this weekend. Its women’s team will face San Diego Christian today at 3 p.m. The Westmont men, who travel to Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, will return home to play Pacific on Sunday. Both games will also start at 3 p.m. Spectators are not allowed at any college basketball contests.
The UCSB men’s team will travel to Pepperdine on Saturday for another 3 p.m. tipoff.