Kassandra McCalister leads UCI on a quest to make the NCAA Tournament. First up: UCSB. (Kent Treptow / Daily Pilot)

In spite of the (regrettable?) lack of coverage women’s basketball has received from Zotcubed this year, Coach Molly Goodenbour has done a terrific job with UCI’s women’s basketball squad for the 2011-12 season. Earning a No. 3 seed in the Big West tournament is solid proof of this fact, especially considering that the Lady Anteaters lost star sophomore Jazmyne White and starting guard Anete Klintsone to injury for significant parts of the season. On top of that, this was a team that would have been much stronger (at least on the basketball court and on paper) if it weren’t for the defections of both Mikah Maly-Karros and Tayler Champion from last year’s team (for reasons unreleased to the public). As much as last year’s team tanked down the stretch without Maly-Karros, this year’s team has proved that they don’t need her to be competitive. The fact that this team managed a third seed with White going down as well is a commendable feat.

Another good indication of the solid job of coaching from Coach Goodenbour: UCI was picked sixth at the beginning of the conference, and that was before White got hurt. The 9-7 conference record for UCI is their best since the 2002-03 campaign.

UCI kicks off the women’s Big West Tournament tonight at 7 p.m. by hosting at the Bren Events Center against No. 6 seed UC Santa Barbara. They swept the Lady Gauchos this season, with First-Team All-Big West honoree Kassandra McCalister scoring a combined 57 points in the two wins. UCI is coming off the solid momentum of avenging an earlier season loss to UCR by beating the Lady Highlanders 65-60 in OT. They did this without the services of McCalister, who was nursing an injury, and instead relied on sophomore Kelly Meggs to come out of nowhere to pour in 26 points while playing all 45 minutes of the game.

While UCI is by no means a dominant team, they should be able to win a game in the tournament for the first time since 2005. If they beat UCSB, they will likely take on the middle remaining seed left (unless the No. 1 and 2 seeds somehow were both upset in the first round), which will likely be UC Davis or Pacific (unless there are no upsets in the first round). UCI tied these two teams in the regular season with a 9-7 conference record, but earned the tiebreaker by going 3-1 against the Aggies and Tigers. If everything breaks right, UCI could very well be on their way to the championship game and a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.