After struggling at times through a rough preseason against several Top 25 teams, including rugged Oregon and Penn State, the Gauchos may have put their 6-6 season behind them.
The UCSB women’s basketball team sank Cal State Fullerton’s ship Tuesday night in a commanding 74-51 victory at Titan Gym to open the Big West competition. Santa Barbara has now won 43 consecutive regular season games in its conference to tie the Big West record with the 1986-89 Long Beach State teams, one of which went to the Final Four. The Gauchos are looking to break the record Saturday night at 7 against Cal Poly at the Thunderdome. Santa Barbara also won 52 games in a row in the Big West overall.
UCSB was never in any danger of relinquishing the game and streak against the Titans (0-13, 0-1 in the Big West), who set their own record for futility.
The Gauchos were led by a formidable frontline of junior power forward Kayte Christensen, senior forward Nicole Greathouse and freshman center Lindsay Taylor. Christensen drilled in eight of nine field goals from the field for 19 points and six rebounds. Greathouse pumped home 11 points, while shooting a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe.
The big offensive outburst from Taylor, who used her size and nimbleness down in the post to garner a career- and game-high 20 points in only 15 minutes of play, was a welcome surprise for Santa Barbara. Taylor also made all eight of her free throws and grabbed five rebounds in the victory.
The game was reasonably close in the first 10 minutes of the contest, yet the Gauchos quickly toppled Fullerton, out-scoring the Titans 44-19 in the first half of play.
“We’ve really been working on our defense, and I felt like we played really good defense tonight,” Christensen said on 1220 AM radio. “We played tough, and we’re trying really hard, and at least our effort is there.”
The two key statistics of the night for the team was 81.3 percent shooting at the free throw stripe on 26-32 shots, and out-rebounding the Titans 41-23 was another key to victory. In comparison with the 32 free-throw attempts by Santa Barbara, the host Titans shot only 18 free throws.
Though the Gauchos dominated their bottom-dwelling conference foes, UCSB Head Coach Mark French was searching for more consistent play from his players to get ready for what might be the season in which the Gauchos get knocked off their perch atop the Big West.
“We were trying to work on our turnovers,” French said on 1220 AM radio. “We set a team goal of less than 15 turnovers, and we wanted to hold them under 40 points, and we wanted to out-rebound them by 20 [UCSB outrebounded CSFU by 18] … I don’t think we accomplished any of those goals.”
French’s biggest concern stems from the team’s lack of taking care of the ball. Santa Barbara committed 23 turnovers despite dishing out 21 assists on 23 made field goals.
“Our turnover situation has to get better, and we’re all very frustrated about that,” French said. “I’m not sure what we need to do. If I was sure what we needed to do, we’d have probably been doing it for the past month, and we wouldn’t be turning the ball over the way we are. We’re pretty skilled players, generally. We just seem to be up and down … If we can get to the point where every night out no matter who we’re playing we’re averaging 14-15 turnovers, we’re going to be a good basketball team. If not, we’re going to be a team that defends and rebounds pretty well, wins 20 games, and maybe has a quick, unhappy end to our season.”
The freshmen on the team, besides the offensive exploits of Taylor, did a very good job contributing to UCSB’s victory after being nurtured slowly at the start of the season; the players have begun to come into their own, especially in the past couple games.
Guard Lisa Willett scored six points, including a driving hook shot made while being fouled, and she had a steal and two rebounds in 18 minutes of play. Forward Jessica Combs scored six points and gathered six rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
“I thought the freshman played well,” French said. “Jessica Combs in particular I thought played really good defense, and got around in the low post … they played well tonight.”