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VOL. IX, NO. 48
CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, LONG BEACH
November 15, 2001


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sports

Gauchos favored again in Big West

By Mike Haubrich
On-line Forty-Niner

Five years, one constant: UC Santa Barbara taking home the Big West Conference women's basketball championship.

A six-peat for the Gauchos is almost a certainty, but not a slam dunk. UCSB showed some vulnerability last season in losing consecutive conference games to upstarts Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UC Irvine in February - only the team's third and fourth conference defeats in the last five years.

The Gauchos rebounded to win nine games in a row following the surprise defeats - including a 79-76 decision over Long Beach State in the Big West championship game - but lost to Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

UCSB is the odds-on favorite to win the Big West title again this year, returning All-American candidate Kayte Christensen and Big West Freshman of the Year Lindsay Taylor, plus the talented backcourt tandem of Jess Hansen and Debby Caine. Add to the mix what longtime Gaucho Head Coach Mark French said is one of UCSB's best recruiting classes ever and it's obvious why UCSB is the favorite.

A group of three to four schools will vie to unseat the Gauchos. Pacific was picked to finish second in both the Big West Conference coaches and media polls and have the talent to be a factor. The Tigers' backcourt of Selena Ho, who could become the Big West's all-time leader in career three-pointers this season, and Dolinda Meeker could rival UCSB's, and Pacific returns two other starters from a team that finished tied for second place last year.

Long Beach State, picked to finish third in both polls, will have to overcome the loss of Big West Player of the Year Jackie Moore and her conference-leading 18.5 points per game scoring average. The 49ers also lost two other starters from last year's squad that lost to UCSB in the Big West title game and will need several newcomers to gel with seven returning letterwinners to make a mark.

UC Irvine and Cal Poly are expected to make the jump to the next level after finishing at 7-7 in conference play last season. The Anteaters, who had their first winning season since 1997-98 at 16-14 last year, will count on returning Big West first team selection Cindy Oparah to again be a key performer, while the Mustangs, with only two seniors, will adhere to a system where the entire team contributes.

Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside enter their first Big West campaigns and wins may be hard to come by for the two squads. Idaho, which finished a disappointing 7-21 last season, brought in new Head Coach Mike Divilbiss and his 310 wins from NAIA Lewis-Clark State.

Cal State Fullerton had one victory last season and will looking for respect. Five wins for the Titans would be an accomplishment.

With the addition of Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside, the Big West will consist of a 16-games schedule instead of 14 games. The conference tournament will be contested March 6-9 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (22-9 overall, 12-2 BWC)

Head Coach: Mark French (15th season, 279-137 at UC Santa Barbara)
Players to watch: Kayte Christensen (6-3 Sr. F, 13.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Lindsay Taylor (6-8 So. C, 10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Jess Hansen (5-8 Jr. G, 9.0 ppg, 3.7 apg)
Outlook: UCSB is the dominant program in the Big West, claiming the last five conference titles and winning at least 22 games each of the last six seasons. Christensen earned All-Big West first team honors last season while Taylor, the tallest player in the Big West, was named Big West Freshman of the Year. Hansen will team with Debby Caine, who averaged a conference-best 4.9 assists per game last season, to form the Gaucho backcourt.

Pacific Tigers (17-11 overall, 10-4 BWC)

Head Coach: Sherri Murrell (fourth season, 49-35 at Pacific)
Players to watch: Selena Ho (5-5 Sr. G, 15.5 ppg, 63 three-pointers); Dolinda Meeker (5-7 Sr. G, 8.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Outlook: Pacific is the consensus pick to finish second in the Big West this season and could make a run at UCSB. Ho is a do-everything guard who has been named first-team All-Big West the last two seasons. She is the Big West's top returning scorer, led the conference with 63 three-pointers last season and hit 90.1 percent of her free throws. Along with Meeker, the Tigers have one of the top backcourts in the Big West. Gillian d'Hondt (7.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Ahsha Johnson (4.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg) will be counted on to solidify Pacific's frontcourt.

Long Beach State 49ers (17-13 overall, 10-4 BWC)

Head Coach: Dallas Bolla (seventh season, 90-84 at Long Beach State)
Players to watch: Ekuah Ramsey (5-10 Sr. F, 13.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Tamara Inoue (5-6 Sr. G, 9.6 ppg, 4.7 apg); Crystal Givens (6-0 Sr. F, 7.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Outlook: The senior trio of Ramsey, Inoue and Givens will be counted on to replace departed Big West Player of the Year Jackie Moore. The 49ers averaged a conference-best 75.8 ppg last season and reached the Big West title game. Six-foot-two freshman Jayme Conners is the early favorite to fill the post position for the 49ers.

UC Irvine Anteaters (16-14 overall, 7-7 BWC)

Head Coach: Mark Adams (fifth season, 55-56 at UCIrvine)
Players to watch: Cindy Oparah (5-11 Sr. F, 10.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg); Brandy Hudson (6-1 Sr. F, 10.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Outlook: Look for the Anteaters to make a push into the upper echelon of the Big West. UCI returns three starters that averaged at least 10 points a game (Oparah, Hudson and junior guard Wendy Gabbe, who averaged 10.4 ppg) and held opponents to a conference low 60.2 ppg. Oparah, who hit on 52.7 percent of her field goals last season, was named to the All-Big West first team last season. The Anteaters won five games in a row heading into the conference tournament last year, but lost to Boise State, 54-51, in the first round.

Idaho Vandals (7-21 overall, 4-10 BWC)

Head Coach: Mike Divilbiss (first season)
Players to watch: Darci Pemberton (6-0 Sr. F, 10.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Julie Wynstra (6-3 Sr. C, 8.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Outlook: First-year Coach Divilbiss brings a winning attitude into Idaho, having racked up 20 or more victories 11 out of 14 seasons at Lewis-Clark State. The Vandals will rely heavily on Pemberton, who was named second team All-Big West last season. Idaho has five seniors with at least three years varsity experience and returns three starters and nine letterwinners. Divilbiss is also looking for a big contribution from 6-foot-2 freshman post player Keisha Moore.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mustangs (12-17 overall, 5-9 BWC)

Head Coach: Faith Mimnaugh (fifth season, 35-74 at Cal Poly)
Players to watch: Odessa Jenkins (5-4 Sr. G, 8.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Kristy Baker (5-8 Sr. G, 6.9 ppg, team-high 42 three-pointers)
Outlook: The Mustangs, whose season victory total has increased in each of Mimnaugh's four seasons, reached double-figure wins last season for the first time since 1993-94 and upset Pacific in the first round of the Big West tournament. Guard play will dominate the Mustangs' game plan, but Mimnaugh said 6-foot-3 freshman Holly Richards may be the best post player ever at Cal Poly.

Cal State Northridge Matadors (9-18 overall, 5-10 Big Sky Conference)

Head Coach: Frozena Jerro (fourth season, 48-36 at Cal State Northridge)
Players to watch: Sha'Tasha Allen (5-10 Sr. G, 9.5 ppg); Monica Hernandez (5-7 Sr. G, 6.0 ppg, 5.0 apg); Myesha Saleem (6-0 Sr. F, 6.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
Outlook: Cal State Northridge begins its first season in the Big West minus three of its top four scorers from last season. Hernandez dished out a school-record 135 assists last season and will team with former reserve Allen to form the Matador backcourt. Jenny Shetters, at 6-foot-4, will patrol the middle for the Matadors, which has nine seniors.

UC Riverside Highlanders (9-18 overall as an independent)

Head Coach: Jennifer Young (fifth season, 43-64 at UC Riverside)
Players to watch: Amy Houchens (5-7 Sr. G, 14.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg); Julie Shaw (6-1 Sr. F, 11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
Outlook: UCR not only begins its first year of play in the Big West, but also its first season in Division I. The Highlanders recorded victories over future Big West foes Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge last season. The Highlanders offense will go through Houchens, who had a team-high 88 assists last season, and Shaw. UCR will also look to 6-foot-1 center Stephanie Hughes (7.3 ppg) and guard Crystal Harris (7.2 ppg) to provide an offensive spark.

Cal State Fullerton Titans (1-27 overall, 1-13 BWC)

Head Coach: Barbara Ehardt (second season, 1-27 at Cal State Fullerton)
Players to watch: Tamara Quinn (5-7 So. G, 11.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Heather Hansen (6-1 junior F/C, 6.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Outlook: Don't look for a lot of victories for the Titans, but Ehardt has optimism her squad can make strides this season. The Titan attack will be strengthened with the addition of Tricia Lamb, a transfer from Washington State who redshirted last season. The 5-foot-10 senior guard/forward averaged 16.4 ppg and hit 69 three-pointers in 1998-99. All five starters return for the Titans, who will have to improve on a defense that finished last in the conference after allowing 78.2 ppg.

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