December 6, 2022
UC Santa Barbara off to a solid start
The Gauchos have thus far lived up to their early preseason ranking
Before the season began, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos were picked to finish second in the Big West in the preseason coaches poll. Last season, they were picked to finish third in the coaches poll and sixth in the media poll. As it would turn out, the Gauchos came in closer to the media vote as they did finish sixth in the Big West with an overall record of 15-12 and 9-8 in the conference.
This season, they’ve gotten off to a 5-2 start and are currently second in the conference standings through early non-conference play, behind only UC Irvine. In their most recent game at home against the No. 13 ranking UCLA Bruins, the Gauchos actually led 20-4 at the end of the first quarter before the Bruins could get going and take control of the game.
It was a solid showing against a Power 5 conference opponent and a game that, despite the loss, Gauchos head coach Bonnie Henrickson believes there was a lot of good to come out of it.
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“I think the most important thing is not that we did it, but how we did it, it was on the defensive end. We were locked in, had great energy and attention to details on point in the first half,” Henrickson told The Next. “We made mistakes, they made us pay, but we won’t minimize the positive piece of the first half as far as how we came out, embraced the moment and didn’t run from it. We got off to a great start and we were aggressive and confident.”
The Gauchos have been led this season by senior center Ila Lane, who was named to the preseason Lisa Leslie Award watch list for the top center in college basketball. She is averaging a double-double at 15.0 points per game and 10.4 rebounds while shooting 61.6 percent from the field.
They’re also getting strong contributions from senior forward Alexis Tucker, who is in her second season with UCSB after transferring from Texas Tech. Tucker is averaging 14.4 points per game and shooting 81.3 percent from the free-throw line.
Lane and Tucker are top five in the Big West in scoring.
But there’s been one player in particular who has really started the season off strong and that’s junior guard Alyssa Marin. Marin has been a productive player off the bench for the Gauchos the last two seasons, but she’s embraced a starting role this year and has responded accordingly.
Marin is the team’s third-leading scorer behind Lane and Tucker at 10.3 points per game. She’s shooting 46.5 percent from the field and in terms of sample size and shot attempts; she’s leading the team in three-point percentage at 47.6 percent. She’s also the team’s top playmaker at 4.9 assists.
Henrickson has liked what she’s seen from all three players so far and is confident in the team’s direction under their leadership.
“Ila Lane, as far as post players, has been the most consistent that we’ve had. . .she’s the focal point of what we do, the focal point defensively of what we see. Alexis Tucker had a really good game in triple overtime down at Southern Utah,” Henrickson said. “And Alyssa Marin is a point guard who has handled that role really well. All three as returners have brought production on both ends of the floor.”
And perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the Gauchos’ season so far is how they’ve been able to win. They’ve been involved in quite a few close games in the early goings and have managed to pull off clutch wins. For example, against Pepperdine on Nov. 10, the Gauchos nearly coughed up a 38-17 halftime lead, but with clutch play down the stretch, they held on to win, 71-63.
A few days later, against Idaho State, the Gauchos found themselves trailing 48-45 with a little over three minutes left in the game. They used a strong defensive effort and clutch free-throw shooting to grab another close victory, 54-52.
On Nov. 19 against Sacramento State, the Gauchos had the opportunity to sneak off with a win. With ten seconds left in the game, junior guard Anya Choice was at the free-throw line looking to give USCB a four-point lead. She split the pair, though and Sacramento State managed to hit a three-point shot to send the game to overtime. In overtime, Choice would tie the game at 68 with nine seconds remaining, only to have Sacramento State knock down a game-winner as time expired.
Just a few days after that, though, the Gauchos were able to wash away the taste of that bitter loss with another clutch win, this time using triple overtime to hold off Southern Utah.
“What’s most magnified is the last four to five minutes of the game. We’ve been in a number of close games, two overtimes and one being triple overtime. Just growing into a comfort level of who’s going to have the ball where, if we need a three or need a two, what’s the time situation and score,” Henrickson said. “It’s good that we’ve been in those situations early to continue to work on it and prep for it. I think that aspect is still a work in progress, but I think it’s been positive as we’ve gone through November.”
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The Gauchos still have three more non-conference games against Cal Baptist, Stanislaus State and Cal Lutheran, respectively, before the open up Big West play at home on Dec. 29 against Cal State Fullerton. And as the team gears up to make a run in the conference, Henrickson is confident in what’s to come.
“The league is really good, coaches are good, players are good, there’s so many different styles and strategies offensively and defensively up and down the league. For us, it’s a possession game, being on the positive side of possessions such as turnovers, offensive rebounds, forcing turnovers, limiting our turnovers, keeping people off the glass,” Henrickson said. “The ball finds energy, you’re not guaranteed to get it if you go, but you’re guaranteed to not get it if you don’t go.”