The heading “Ladies’ Day” might seem appropriate for this recounting of how I spent last Saturday, but I was engaged in three women’s basketball games, not watching episodes of Downton Abbey. Some colleges cling to hoary names (Baylor’s Lady Bears, Tennessee’s Lady Vols), but here it’s the UCSB Gauchos, Westmont Warriors, and SBCC Vaqueros — the same team names as the men’s. It should be so unless somebody wants to name the male counterparts the Gentleman Gauchos. There are formal exceptions, such as the starting command of the upcoming Daytona 500: “Lady [Danica Patrick] and gentlemen, start your engines.”
My pilgrimage to three campuses revealed two teams struggling to get their mojo working and another achieving a lofty standing.
CAL POLY AT UCSB: Players, coaches, and spectators were adorned in pink for this game, UCSB’s participation in the nationwide movement to combat breast cancer. The first 10 minutes turned a few Gaucho faces crimson — Cal Poly Mustangs, their Central Coast rival, stormed out to an 18-2 lead.
The Gauchos expected to do better. They were riding a three-game winning streak, punctuated by a road victory at Pacific, the leader of the Big West. With a 7-4 conference record, they were tied for second with Cal Poly, a game behind Pacific. But the Mustangs were the only team that UCSB had never beaten under second-year coach Carlene Mitchell.
One reason was Cal Poly’s 6’5” center Molly Schlemer. Even with UCSB’s 6’1” Kirsten Tilleman bodied up against her, Schlemer used her reach to score 18 points and several easy assists when the Gauchos double-teamed her.
UCSB shaved its deficit to seven points when Melissa Zornig started the second half with a three-point basket. Cal Poly answered with a barrage of threes and built up a 17-point lead (51-34). The Gauchos, with Sweets Underwood recording her 10th double-double (15 points, 13 rebounds), managed to whittle it down again, but they ran out of time. The Mustangs won, 65-56.
It is exasperating to the fans that the Gaucho women have been more successful on the road (7-4) than at home (3-7). They play two more at the Thunderdome this week — Hawai‘i on Thursday night, February 21, and Cal State Northridge on Saturday afternoon.
Despite their inconsistency, the Gauchos are a team to be feared in March. A year ago, after a so-so season, Mitchell and her staff had them primed for the Big West Tournament, and they surged to the championship in Anaheim.
ARIZONA CHRISTIAN AT WESTMONT: It was an evening of celebration at Murchison Gym in Montecito. The Warrior women came into the game against Arizona Christian University with 13 consecutive victories and an 11-0 record in the Golden State Athletic Conference. The visiting Firestorm was 0-11. Westmont won, 91-51, clinching the regular-season GSAC championship.
It could have been even more one-sided. Westmont’s All-American forward Tuğçe Canıtez played just 16 minutes yet scored 28 points. She leads the NAIA in scoring (21.5 points per game), rebounding (11.9), and shooting percentage (.568). But the Warriors lost some December games when they expected Canıtez to dominate by herself. Since then, players like Larissa Hensley, sharpshooter Esther Lee, and dogged Celina Gougis have all made big contributions. Coach Kirsten Moore’s women, 22-3 overall, will host a GSAC Tournament semifinal game on March 1.
Later Saturday night, the Warrior men (23-5) scored an 86-72 victory over Arizona Christian to claim their first regular-season title since 1992. They will open the GSAC Tournament against the lowest-seeded team and potentially be home for the men’s semifinals on March 2.
L.A. PIERCE AT SBCC: The Vaqueros fell behind early (9-0) and had to play catch-up the rest of the night. They did grab a lead early in the second half, 38-36, on a jumper by Sara Crane, a sophomore out of Dos Pueblos High. But the visiting Brahmas outscored them 22-2 in a nine-minute span en route to a 74-62 victory.
A month ago, SBCC’s women were on top of their world — the Western State Conference — after a 70-67 win at Ventura College. Coach Sandrine Krul called it “an epic victory.” It was Ventura’s first conference home defeat in 122 games.
Krul has been confounded by her team’s slump since then. The Vaqueros have lost four of their last five games. It has been disconcerting to a coach who has spent eight years instilling a winning attitude at SBCC by stressing value-loaded slogans such as “MTXE” (mental toughness, extra effort).
“You do that, everything takes care of itself,” Krul said. She focused on the mental aspect as her team’s problem, a sense of complacency since Ventura. She latched onto a quote by Missouri coach Brett Gosper: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” The Vaqs’ challenge is to overcome that disability.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” Krul said. The Vaqueros, 17-11 overall, are still on track to make the state regional playoffs because of the strength of their schedule, but they will be relegated to road games.