again in Big West
By Mike Haubrich
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
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
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
UC Santa Barbara
Gauchos (22-9 overall, 12-2 BWC)
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.
(17-11 overall, 10-4 BWC)
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)
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)
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.
(7-21 overall, 4-10 BWC)
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)
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)
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.
Highlanders (9-18 overall as an independent)
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)
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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