The rest of the Big West had better watch out because the UCSB women’s basketball team is rolling.
After having their 58-game Big West winning streak snapped last season, the Gauchos are once again stringing victories together en masse, and at the expense of their conference foes. With its two weekend victories, an 81-70 win over Irvine and an 80-62 whipping of Long Beach State, Santa Barbara (11-5 overall, 5-0 in Big West play) increased its season winning streak to seven games, and picked up its 12th and 13th straight Big West victories dating back to last season. But though UCSB may be playing winning basketball, the Gauchos feel that their best play is still to come.
“I feel like we’re improving now that we have more games under our belts,” sophomore center Lindsay Taylor said. “Our freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore and areas we’re we have struggled in the past, like turnovers, we’ve improved. At the same time, there are others areas where we definitely could improve.”
But even a winning streak doesn’t come without its ups and downs, and the Gauchos experienced a lull for a large portion of the victory over the Anteaters. Still, Santa Barbara looked ready to run away from UCI when it took an eight-point lead on a jumper from sophomore forward Lisa Willett.
But with senior forward Kayte Christensen in foul trouble, the Anteaters turned to their post players, and Cindy Oparah responded. Scoring repeatedly from the paint, Oparah dropped in 12 first-half points, giving Irvine a 32-30 lead with her sixth basket of the first half. However, Willett was able to counter for UCSB, burying a three-pointer and another jumper at the buzzer to give Santa Barbara a 35-34 lead heading into the half.
Down only one and armed with the confidence of having beaten UCSB last season, the Anteaters came out strong in the second half, turning a one-point deficit into a one-point lead with a three-pointer from Wendy Gabbe. Santa Barbara regained the lead on a layup from Taylor, but was unable to shake a pesky Anteater squad for a large portion of the second period.
The Gauchos then turned it on, using a 15-2 run to increase their lead to a game-high 17 points. Freshman forward Kristen Mann got the spurt started with a hoop, and then got help from fellow freshman, guard Mia Fisher, who turned in consecutive three-point plays during the decisive burst.
“We just realized at half time what’s going on and what adjustments we needed to make,” Mann said of the Gauchos’ run. “We’re fortunate enough to get away with [playing well in spurts] in conference. But we need to realize that can’t do that and that we need to play hard for 40 minutes instead of 20.”
Fisher and Christensen each finished with 17 points to lead UCSB. Christensen also grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, good for the 22nd double-double of her career, and seventh this season.
Santa Barbara continued its domination of LBSU on Saturday, defeating its conference rival for the 19th straight time. But it was the Beach that came out strong at the Pyramid, surging to an early 20-11 lead in hopes of providing LBSU Head Coach Dallas Boll a with her 100th career victory.
However, Bolla would not see the century mark on this day, as UCSB shutout the 49ers for the next four minutes, while scoring 15 points of its own to zoom to a 26-20 advantage. Led by Mann’s 11 first-half points, the Gauchos would increase its lead to 41-33 at intermission.
UCSB turned to its stingy defense in the second half, allowing only one hoop over the first six and a half minutes of the period, while increasing its lead to a game-high 21 points. Junior guard Jess Hansen made sure the lead would stand, nailing three three-pointers in the second half, en route to 11 points. Taylor and Mann each turned in a team-high 14 points, while Christensen chipped in with 10 points and seven boards.
“We know that we’re the target of each [conference] team,” Taylor said. “We’re the team that everyone wants to beat, especially in the Big West. We just need to remember that, and come out ready to play.”
UCSB returns to action this Friday, when it hosts Pacific at 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.