<strong>ON IN THE OFF-SEASON</strong>: UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb (center) is currently recruiting players from throughout California and beyond.
Paul Wellman (file)

As her honeymoon year nears an end, Lindsay Gottlieb is confident she has kept the UCSB women’s basketball team heading in the right direction. She inherited a veteran team from Mark French, who retired as the Gauchos’ coach a year ago, and guided them to another Big West Conference championship and a 22-10 record.

The season ended with a somewhat painful 74-39 loss to Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but Gottlieb points out, “Stanford destroyed everybody up to the Final Four. It was an unlucky draw for us.” The Cardinal was regarded as the best team in the tournament other than all-powerful Connecticut.

Gottlieb says she has “a three- or four-year plan” for the Gauchos to continue competing “on a national level.” Her proficiency will be more fully revealed next season, when the returning players will have spent a year in her system, and recruits chosen by her will be folded into the team.

Gottlieb and her staff have assembled an impressive rookie class for 2009-10: Grovinya “Sweets” Underwood, a six-footer from Compton Centennial High whose life story (both parents deceased, she was raised by an aunt who exhorted her to earn all A’s in school) inspired a column by Steve Lopez in the L.A. Times; guard Destini Mason of Perris High; guard Briahna Richardson from Pacific Hills, the daughter of former NBA player Pooh Richardson; and a late addition, Stefani Corgel, a guard from L.A.’s Marlborough High.

There are more holes to fill, as the Gauchos are graduating five seniors, and two young players-forward Ashlee Brown and guard Courtney Collishaw-have decided to transfer. “Recruiting is ongoing,” Gottlieb says. “I don’t know if ‘off’ is the proper term for ‘off-season.’ It seems I’m spending even more time on the job now.”

The departure of Brown and Collishaw sowed some unease among the Gaucho faithful. Brown is a strong post player who made the Big West All-Freshman team in 2008, but she found herself riding the bench much of the past season. Collishaw had trouble catching up after her first season was wiped out by a torn ACL.

Collishaw is heading for Loyola Marymount, which had been her second choice when French successfully recruited her to UCSB. “I wanted to come to Santa Barbara since the eighth grade,” Collishaw says. “There’s a lot of sadness about leaving. There was just too much change. It’s a shock to go from high school to Division I in the first place, and then-after I got used to everything-to have a new coaching staff, a new athletic director, a new trainer. It was hard to handle. Coach Gottlieb understood, as a player herself, where I was coming from.”

“My first choice is for our players to be happy and successful here,” Gottlieb says. “If not, that they be happy and successful elsewhere.”

The movement of basketball players from one school to another has almost reached epidemic proportions. The Gauchos will likely pick up some players from that market, Gottlieb says, but she will do careful research before committing to a player. UCSB has in the past taken in stars that did not pan out-notably, Emily Niemann from Baylor and Courtney Young from Tennessee-but also landed very productive transfers in April McDivitt, who led the Gauchos into the 2004 Sweet Sixteen after leaving Tennessee; and Lauren Pedersen, who finished her career in style this year after jumping from UCLA.

UCSB hopes it has another winning transfer in Mekia Valentine, a 6²4³ forward/center who becomes eligible as a junior this fall after leaving Wake Forest. “Mekia’s level of intensity in practice already had an impact on us,” Gottlieb says. “She’s incredibly mobile and quick. She’s an athlete the likes of which I didn’t see in the conference.”

Gottlieb has also been working on her golf game in preparation for the UCSB women’s basketball benefit tournament, coming up May 28 at the Sandpiper Golf Course. For information on the event, which includes lunch and dinner, call 893-5724.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: UCSB will honor the university’s Type I diabetes research team on Friday (May 8) before the 2 p.m. start of a three-game baseball series against Long Beach State : Mira Costa visits Santa Barbara High in a boy’s volleyball showdown Friday at 6:30 p.m. : The Santa Barbara Breakers, who lost a West Coast Pro Basketball League (WCPBL) game the first time in two years last Sunday at Ventura, face the Newport Beach Surf at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at the SBCC Sports Pavilion. The WCPBL has been reduced to six teams, as the Beijing Aoshen Olympians have returned home to China because of concerns over swine flu.


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