The biggest test of the season for the UCSB women’s basketball team will be here on Saturday as No. 15 ranked UCLA will be visiting the Thunderdome for a non-conference contest beginning at 7 p.m.
The Bruins (7-1) are coming off a 73-64 loss at No. 1 ranked South Carolina, but will be a thrilling challenge for a UCSB (5-1) team that is riding a two-game winning streak.
“We continue to grow and I think what’s really special is some players from last year that are just in different roles have really embraced that,” said UCSB coach Bonnie Hendrickson. “With losing Danae Miller at the point guard that’s who had the ball in her hands at the end of the games, so we were worried about who is replacing Danae, yes, but what was really magnified as a staff is who is going to have the ball in their hands at the end of the game. We’ve had some young players really step up.”
The Gauchos are led by the senior duo of Alexis Tucker and Ila Lane. Tucker, who started her college basketball career at Texas Tech, averages a team-high 15.5 points per game. Lane provides a dominating interior presence with 15.3 points per game and 11.2 rebounds per game.
“I think this is going to be a really good game. I’ve always wanted to play UCLA, they’ve got good guards,” Tucker said. “It will be a really challenging game, but we’re ready, we’re prepared, we’ve had two days of prep going over scout and everything so I’m really excited.”
UCLA head coach Cori Close is a UCSB alum and was a four-year starting point guard. She captained Santa Barbara’s two NCAA Tournament teams in 1992 and 1993, leading them both to the second round. Close was also a First Team All-Big West selection and the MVP of the conference tournament in 1993.
“I’m glad it’s in the Thunderdome,” Tucker said. “At UCLA would have been cool too, but it’s good to have that game here and I know there’s history with coach Cori Close so I think it will be a really good game.”
Depth has been a strength so far this season for UCSB and with 10 to 11 players accustomed to contributing Hendrickson has lots of weapons at her disposal.
“When we sub there’s not a drop off and that’s a huge advantage for us on both ends of the floor,” Hendrickson said. “If we need a better on-ball defender we’ve got that coming off the bench. If we need a better shooter we’ve got that coming off the bench so I think that’s been important.”
The Gauchos will need all of their players to be at their best as they pursue a signature victory.