On a night when senior forward Mekia Valentine moved to second all-time in career blocks, the UCSB women’s basketball team defeated the University of Pacific 56-47 on Saturday at the Thunderdome.
“Coach [Lindsay Gottlieb] told us that we were completely flat and we needed to turn up the energy,” freshman guard Nicole Nesbit said, who contributed 12 points, five boards and five steals off the bench for UCSB. “It [started] with ball pressure in the front-court, [which] really sparked our run.”
UCSB’s defense forced 15 turnovers and held Pacific to 28.1 percent shooting from the field. Despite the defensive intensity, the Tigers were only down by two points with nine minutes to play when Nesbit stole the ball and took it to the basket for a lay-up. She also scored four of the Gauchos’ final six points from the free throw line to put the game away. The bench scored 23 points for UCSB.
Sophomore forward Sweets Underwood scored eight points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while junior guard Emilie Johnson added 10 points and three steals.
“Watching Emilie play has helped me tremendously,” Nesbit said. “Just watching her poise, I think some of it rubbed off on me. I just love watching her play, as well as the team. That first starting group, they just look so cohesive, which is really good for us coming off the bench knowing what we need to do.”
Valentine already has 184 career shots blocked for UCSB in just the second season of school. She now only trails Gaucho legend Lindsay Taylor by 59 blocks.
“I think I have really good teammates,” Valentine said. “It’s really great when you have a relationship with your guards, so I can go in and block and go out and contest shots.”
Crashing the boards continued to be a strength for the Gauchos in conference play, as they out-battled Pacific on the glass 49-43. Both Valentine and Underwood are in the hunt to lead the Big West conference in rebounds per game.
“I give Sweets crap all the time,” Valentine said jokingly. “She is doing an amazing job on the boards, and it’s really nice to have someone else there to get rebounds too. I think that we feed off each other really well. I feed off of her energy and she does the same with mine.”
The Gauchos next travel to Irvine on Jan. 13 to take on the Anteaters. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.