The UCSB women’s basketball team does not particularly care for Pacific, and the Gauchos demonstrated their displeasure Thursday night at the Thunderdome.
Santa Barbara (18-8, 11-2) opened the second half with a 21-5 run to blow open a tight game, rolling to a 66-55 win. With the victory, UCSB clinched a share of the Big West Title and ran its winning streak to five games, yet the Gauchos aren’t satisfied by any means.
"We don’t want to tie with anybody," junior forward Kayte Christensen said. "We want to win [the conference title] outright, so Long Beach better be ready on Saturday."
Santa Barbara jumped out to an early 9-4 lead behind [[[in front of]]] a rambunctious home crowd of 2,146. However, UCSB then went cold and was held without a field goal for the next 10:08. Because of the dry spell, the Gauchos were forced to rely on their defense to keep Pacific within striking distance.
Led by the inspired play of senior forward Nicole Greathouse, UCSB stepped up its defensive pressure, consistently forcing the Tigers into ill-advised shots.
With Pacific (16-10, 9-4) leading 13-9 and neither team able to score from the field, the first half turned into a free-throw shooting contest. The Gauchos used the charity stripe to their advantage, shooting 12-13 from the line in the first half for a robust .923. Pacific was unable to match UCSB’s proficiency and finished only 6-13 from the stripe.
Greathouse finally ended Santa Barbara’s field-goal drought with a layup to put UCSB up by four, 25-21. But the Tigers caught fire, taking a 31-30 lead. Pacific point guard Selena Ho then punctuated the first half with a three-pointer to give the Tigers a 34-31 halftime lead.
Despite the Gauchos’ defensive intensity, Pacific was still able to shoot 12-24 from the field in the first half. That statistic, however, only served as motivation for UCSB in the second period.
"I think it was definitely a memorable second half," Greathouse said. "[Pacific] was shooting .500 from the field, and that gave us automatic inspiration to play defense."
In the second half, Santa Barbara found its groove, dominating the Tigers in the final 20 minutes. UCSB began the second stanza with a 21-5 run and surged to a 51-39 lead. But the Gauchos’ defense enabled them to take control, holding Pacific scoreless for a span of five minutes; Santa Barbara also forced the Tigers to 7-24 shooting for the period.
UCSB received clutch contributions from Christensen, who finished with a game-high 18 points, and sophomore guard Jess Hansen, who rang up 12 points (2-4 from behind the arc) on the night. Both players were instrumental in defeating the Tigers.
"We were back on our heels in the first half," UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. "But Jess Hansen came out with fire in her eyes [in the second half], crashing the boards and shooting the ball well."
The Gauchos will now prepare for their final home game of the season against LBSU. A victory on Senior Day would give UCSB its fifth-straight, regular-season conference title and would also be a perfect departing gift for its graduating seniors.
"We’re very excited about Long Beach coming to the T-dome," French said. "It will be fun – time to honor our seniors. There is nobody that we would rather play than Long Beach."