[media-credit id=20279 align=”alignleft” width=”119″][/media-credit]While most students relaxed this holiday season, UCSB women’s basketball was hard at work.After opening the season with a disappointing 0-4 start, UCSB got hot, posting wins in seven of its last nine games dating back to late November.
“I think we are in a flow,” junior guard Emilie Johnson said. “We are confident but not satisfied. We still have a lot to accomplish in conference and we are taking it one game at a time.”
The Gauchos opened conference play with a 70-43 rout of Long Beach State on Thursday. Johnson and senior center Mekia Valentine led the charge, scoring 14 and 13 points respectively. The victory pushed the Gauchos’ record to 7-6 and 1-0 in the Big West.
“I think we are pretty confident and we are excited to go into conference,” senior forward Margaret Johnson said. “We try to keep the mentality of one game at a time.”
The winning ways began for the Gauchos with a 64-53 win over Northern Colorado on Nov. 28, giving UCSB its first win of the season. Valentine led the Gauchos in record fashion, posting the first triple-double in school history.
The squad followed up that victory with a 77-53 loss to Saint Mary’s on Dec. 3, putting the Gauchos at a crossroad.
“Any slow start motivates a team,” Johnson said. “We were more frustrated than anything and that motivated us. But it also allowed us to learn more about the team. Everything happens for a reason and this made us stronger.”
Following their fifth loss in six games, the Gauchos then went on a four-game winning streak in December, beginning with a 71-38 hammering of the University of San Francisco.
“The perseverance of the team and our ability to stay together allowed for the turn around,” Emilie Johnson said. “We weren’t going to let the season go how it did in the first four games. We just want to keep improving and take steps in a positive direction.”
A 68-50 victory over UTEP on Dec. 11 extended the winning streak, followed three days later by a close 86-83 overtime thriller against Cal State Bakersfield. Junior forward Kelsey Adrian scored 11 points and hit two three-pointers for the Gauchos to extend the game into overtime, where they pulled away from the Roadrunners.
UCSB carried their winning ways across the country to New York for a three-game road trip over the holidays. The trip began with the St. Johns tournament as the Gauchos posted their fourth consecutive victory in a narrow 64-62 victory over Fresno State. Their winning streak was then ended in a competitive 56-47 loss to a 17th ranked St. Johns team.
“New York was an amazing trip, and overall it was a good experience for everyone,” Emilie Johnson said. “There was a lot of team bonding off the court and a lot of building confidence on the court. We were able to see new sights as well as take care of business on the court.”
Competition in New York concluded as the Gauchos took on Siena in a 71-59 victory. Valentine was the leading scorer for UCSB with 14 points, as they improved their record to 6-6 heading into conference play.
“We know what it takes to be a championship team,” Emilie Johnson said. “We need to have a championship mentality, and we need to bring that in practice in order to carry it over to the game.”
Overall, the holidays proved to be a happy time for the Gauchos as they showed they could compete against some of the toughest teams. As individuals, sophomore forward Sweets Underwood and freshman guard Nicole Nesbit have taken great strides of improvement, and as a team UCSB has done the same. This is certainly not the same team that was seen before the Winter Break.
“We need to make sure we stay with the mindset of one game at a time,” Margaret Johnson said. “We can’t look ahead or behind. We need to keep getting better and not plateau at this point in the season.”
UCSB returns to the Thunderdome for a 7 p.m. game against Big West foe UC Davis on Thursday — its first home game since Dec. 11.