Despite a career performance from junior center Mekia Valentine, the UCSB women’s basketball team fell just short to UC Riverside, losing 60-54 in overtime. Valentine notched 26 points and 22 rebounds, but in the end it was Riverside that was celebrating.
“I would rather win before anything,” Valentine said. “Before starting, before playing, before anything. It’s about us as a team, and I would want that first before a big night.”
It was shooting that doomed the Gauchos, as a 1-14 three-point mark and a 43.8 percent free throw clip kept Santa Barbara to a low score.
“It’s tough to win a game when we can’t knock down shots,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “We just didn’t do enough to help ourselves offensively.”
Valentine got off to a hot start, with nine points and 12 boards in the first half to give her squad a three-point lead. The second half saw more of the same, as her teammates kept feeding her the ball in the low post for easy buckets. Senior guard Meagan Williams, in particular, was successful at getting the ball into the paint. Williams’ eight assists led the team, and she only recorded one turnover in the process.
At the end of regulation, with the teams trading buckets, the game began to get crazy. Senior guard Jordan Franey nailed a three with less than three minutes to go to tie things at 44 apiece. Riverside regained the lead with 94 seconds remaining, but Valentine immediately knotted things up again with a layup.
A Highlander bucket on an acrobatic floater by Brittany Waddell made it 48-46 UCR, but Valentine came right back and drew two free throws. The center hit the first but missed the second to cut the lead to one. The Gauchos fouled immediately, sending UCR star Alyssa Morris to the charity stripe for a one-and-one. She made an uncharacteristic miss, giving UCSB the ball with a chance at the last shot.
Instead of milking the clock, the Gauchos went for the quick strike. Freshman point guard Emilie Johnson drove in and missed her look, giving UCR the ball back with the lead intact. A foul and a split at the free throw line later, Santa Barbara got the ball, down 47-49 with 14 seconds left. Once again, UCSB found Valentine in the paint, and she delivered for the tie.
Seconds later, the center made a near-fatal mistake — intentionally fouling Morris with four seconds left to send her to the line. Morris missed the front end of the one-and-one, sending the game into overtime and greatly relieving the Gauchos.
But overtime did not solve the Gauchos offensive woes, as UCSB was outscored 11-5 in the final frame. The loss brings UCSB to 5-6 in conference, while UCR improves to a conference lead-tying 7-3. Santa Barbara, for its part, is not discouraged.
“We’re going to continue to fight,” Williams said. “In Anaheim [at the Big West Tournament], it’s going to be a whole different story.”