With Saturday’s clash against Big West-leading UC Davis looming large on the horizon, the UCSB women’s basketball team took care of business Thursday night in impressive fashion. In fact, “impressive” hardly does it justice.
The Gauchos exploded to a 44-6 lead with a smooth offense and stifling defense in the first half, before cruising in the second half to a 71-34 win. If not for two Pacific free throws with five seconds remaining, the six points allowed would have set the UCSB record for best defensive performance in a half. But with a 36-point lead at the break, Santa Barbara was in no mood to complain.
“My greatest joy with that is seeing [the players] happy and to see success,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of her biggest career win. “It’s nice, sometimes, to have a game like this.”
No kidding. UCSB dominated Pacific in all statistical categories in the game. In field goal percentage, the Gauchos’ 46.4 percent was worlds better than the Tigers’ 18 percent (and that was up from a 1-23 first half shooting performance). UCSB out-rebounded the Tigers 50-28, out-assisted them 16-3, out-blocked them 9-4 and out-stole them 13-7. It was, by all accounts, a blowout.
Individually, several players shined for the Gauchos while building the big early lead. Junior center Mekia Valentine had four first half blocks and seven rebounds on her way to a big statistical evening (12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks total). Sophomore point guard Emilie Johnson’s four first-half steals also set the defensive tone as the Gauchos first 16 turnovers in just the first 20 minutes. Senior guard Meagan Williams, meanwhile, got it done on the offensive end by notching all 14 of her points in the first frame.
An uneventful second half translated into a huge UCSB victory and a good momentum boost to start off the second half of the conference season.
“It’s a new half in the conference,” Johnson said, “and we’re coming out every game with a new sense of urgency and it’s paying off.”
Williams added that the players are really “buying into proving ourselves” as the season wears on. They will have a major chance on Saturday when conference-leading UC Davis rolls into the Thunderdome.
In the first match between the two teams, the Aggies edged out the Gauchos 54-59 in Davis. Williams led UCSB with 12 points, and UCSB shot a lights-out 55.6 percent clip. However, as has happened many times this season, turnovers undid the team. A 27-11 margin on giveaways gave Davis just enough of an advantage to walk away with the win in the end.
“Saturday’s a new day,” Gottlieb said. “We have to be ready to play 40 minutes against a very good team. … It’ll be a great game.”
With conference contention on the line, UCSB will undoubtedly be bringing it’s A-game on Saturday. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m. As always, admission for students is free.