After a 33-point loss Saturday at UC Riverside, UCSB women’s basketball responded in a big way at home against Fullerton. The Gauchos used a balanced offensive attack and pressure defense on their way to a 69-32 victory.
[media-credit id=20125 align=”alignleft” width=”125″][/media-credit] Charged by 23 unanswered points in the first half, the Gauchos (10-8 overall, 4-2 Big West) took a 43-14 lead at halftime. The 14 points allowed are the sixth-fewest allowed in a half in the program’s history. Led by freshman guard Melissa Zornig’s 15 points, the Gauchos posted the largest victory in Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s tenure and their 36th consecutive victory over the Titans (7-13, 3-5).
“More than anything, this was a message to ourselves,” Gottlieb said. “We all knew that wasn’t us last Saturday. Today, it was more about our players believing and committing to the game. The message to ourselves is that when we get after it and take care of things, we can be pretty good.”
Senior forward Mekia Valentine recorded her sixth double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field. The Gauchos held Fullerton to less than 18 percent shooting in the game.
“The one thing we talked about in the locker room, before we went out, was having energy,” Valentine said. “That is a really big key for us. As long as we are energetic and we’re on our toes and just keep communicating with one other we are really good at defense and really good at making stops.”
Every player scored for the Gauchos in the game, with sophomore guard Angelei Aguirre posting a balanced game with six points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Sophomore forward Sweets Underwood scored seven points and pulled down nine rebounds. UCSB shot over 51 percent from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc.
“I thought [my shot selection] was pretty good,” Zornig said. “I’ve finally been starting to hit some shots and I think I’m getting used to the pace of the game. I’m just going to go out there and keep shooting and hopefully I can make them.”
Zornig has scored in double digits for three consecutive games following her five of seven shooting performance. The bench scored 36 points for the Gauchos, its fourth consecutive game with 20 or more. UCSB recorded 10 steals in the game, on their way to scoring 25 points off 21 forced turnovers.
“What makes us a good defensive team … is having [Mekia] in the paint,” Gottlieb said. “It allows our perimeter players to be aggressive and contest shots. This was a quintessential night of that.”
Fullerton’s guard duo, senior Lyndsey Grove and junior Megan Richardson were held to a combined 12 points, in contrast to each averaging over 13 points entering the game. The Gauchos did not allow a single Fullerton player to score in double digits, and out-rebounded the Titans by 15.
“We are really pleased with our effort today,” Gottlieb said. “I think we made a statement today, starting out with our defense. It’s a great win for us and I hope our team sees it as a turning point in conference in terms of understanding we need to keep moving forward and get better from here.”
The Gauchos face rival Cal Poly on Thursday in the Thunderdome. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.