Through the first 20 minutes of its Sweet 16 matchup against two-time defending national champion and second-seeded University of Connecticut, the UCSB women’s basketball team looked as if they would shock the nation. But a strong Husky defense and 21 points from senior all-American Diana Taurasi proved to be too much for the Gauchos, losing 63-55 in Hartford, Conn. in the East Region Semifinals on Saturday.
Although senior guard April McDivitt’s 20 points led the 11th-seeded Gauchos, they were held at 32 percent shooting in the game.
Santa Barbara put a scare into the Connecticut faithful when McDivitt cut the Huskies’ lead to six at 45-39 with 7:26 to play in the contest on a line-drive three-pointer. Connecticut then responded with two baskets of their own to pull ahead by 10. The Gauchos pulled within seven points with a little over a minute and a half to go, but Taurasi got a crucial steal and made a bucket to put UConn up by nine with 1:18 to play.
McDivitt kept UCSB in the game with a three-point basket with 1:08 to play, pulling the Gauchos to within six at 53-47, but UConn made eight of their 10 free throws during the last minute of the contest to hold off Santa Barbara. Barbara Turner’s free throw with 13 seconds remaining in the contest put the Huskies up by 11, ending any threat of an upset. Junior forward Kristen Mann converted on a layup with four seconds to play and freshman guard Erin O’Bryan connected on a three-point attempt with no time left on the clock to pull the Gauchos within seven as time expired.
Santa Barbara was impressive throughout the first half and led five times during the first half. The game was tied at 22 with 5:35 to play in the first half before Connecticut rattled off six unanswered points to close off the first half with a 28-22 lead.
The Gauchos did get close in the second half, coming within two points with a little under 12 minutes remaining. But the Huskies went on a 9-0 run to end the Santa Barbara threat.
Santa Barbara shot 22.2 percent from the field in the first half and went on to shoot an impressive 42.9 percent after halftime. Mann finished second on the team with 12 points and also pulled down five rebounds. Senior center Lindsay Taylor was held in check throughout the contest, consistently facing double and triple teams, and finished with only five points. Taylor did, however, pull down a team-high seven rebounds.
Connecticut finished with three players scoring in double digits, but shot only 39.6 percent from the field, their lowest shooting percentage of the tournament. Santa Barbara forced 17 Husky turnovers but Connecticut out-rebounded the Gauchos 41-34.
Santa Barbara ends their season at 27-7 and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in the history of the program.