If the UCSB women’s basketball team was surprised after its loss at Cal Poly, it must be flabbergasted after tonight’s defeat.
The Gauchos were looking to reassert themselves as the team to beat Wednesday night against Irvine. Instead, Santa Barbara dropped its second straight Big West game, 64-57, at the Thunderdome. The defeat marked UCSB’s first home conference loss since 1995, when the Gauchos fell to then Big West member Hawai’i. The defeat was also the first time that Santa Barbara has lost back-to-back conference games since the 1994-95 season.
"[Irvine] outplayed us," UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. "They executed very well and made some big shots down the stretch. I think a certain amount of credit has to go to Irvine."
UCSB fell behind the Anteaters early, 7-2, with UCI junior guard Lisa Woznick scoring all seven points. Woznick set the tone early for UCI and finished with a career-high 17 points, connecting on several clutch shots in the second half.
"I’m extremely proud of Lisa," Irvine Head Coach Mark Adams said. "She decided to play aggressively on the offensive end and played her best game [at UCI]."
Following Woznick’s outburst, the Gauchos battled back taking a 9-8 lead on sophomore point guard Debby Caine’s three-point bomb. The two teams then exchanged baskets, tying the score at 11, 13, 15 and 20 points apiece, before Irvine took a 24-20 lead.
Santa Barbara answered with a 7-0 to take a 27-24 lead, and with the spurt the Gauchos appeared poised to take control of the game. Just like Cal Poly, Irvine made a shot at the buzzer, giving the Anteaters a 28-27 lead, and extra confidence heading into the second period.
A second-half comeback seemed likely for UCSB, and the Gauchos came out expecting to pull away from UCI. But Irvine had other ideas, extending its lead to 42-35. The Anteaters weren’t finished yet, going on a 7-0 run to take a 14-point lead, its biggest lead of the game.
Inspired by a rowdy home crowd, Santa Barbara slowly started to whittle away the Irvine lead, getting to within five at 56-51 on Caine’s three. The Gauchos then cut the Irvine lead to four on another Caine trey and a free throw from junior forward Kayte Christensen. That would be as close as UCSB would get, with Anteater junior forward Cindy Oparah dropping in four points in the final 24 seconds to finish off the Gauchos.
"I think it took a lot of guts for Irvine to hang in there the way they did," French said. "I thought with three minutes left that we were going to pull it out, but we couldn’t get some shots to fall.
With the loss the Gauchos dropped into a three-way tie for first place in the Big West, with Pacific and Long Beach State.
Santa Barbara is now left in the unaccustomed spot of playing as the underdog, flying to play #29 Stephen F. Austin this Sunday. Caine says that it will be a welcomed change of pace for the Gauchos.
"I think we’ll have a different state of mind [on the road]," Caine said. "It will be good to get away. But nothing changes just because you lose a couple of games. We’re still the same Gauchos."