The UCSB women’s basketball team beat UC Irvine 70-56 on Thursday night at the Thunderdome, where the Gauchos improved their record to 13-10 (7-4 Big West).
Johnson led the Gauchos with 17 points, while Valentine had 16 points on seven of 11 shooting with nine rebounds and five blocked shots. With the loss, Irvine, who was without their leading scorer Mikah Maly-Karros, dropped to 13-10 (5-6 Big West).
“If you’ve seen us play a lot, you can see a tangible shift in that we are a little bit more dialed in and set on finding a way to win,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Overall, playing a game at home against a team that is close to us in the standings, it was a really gritty, gutsy, tough win.”
Gottlieb noted that she has seen a shift in the team’s focus, noticing the players to be looking more towards handling pressure than worrying about turnovers.
“We tend to hold teams to low shooting percentages and we have tended to shoot a high percentage,” Gottlieb said. “If we get more possessions than the other team, typically I like our chances.”
The Gauchos looked on top of their game in this one, committing only 14 turnovers and forcing 21. UCSB shot nearly 50 percent from the field, holding the Anteaters to 41.5 percent shooting.
Johnson had a game-high 15 points at the half. She has averaged 24 points in her last three games.
“I feel more confident shooting, but it’s also the team’s confidence that really makes the difference,” Johnson said. “We are all playing well together.”
Twelve of Valentine’s 16 points came during the second half. Valentine continually had opportunities to score down low, leading UCSB to 24 points in the paint compared to eight for Irvine.
“There were a lot of good passes, and some of them may have appeared to look risky, but in my mind I can catch everything,” Valentine said. “The guards did a good job of penetrating and attracting multiple people. I had to turn around in the second half and focus and finish.”
Junior forward Kelsey Adrian played a large role for the Gauchos, scoring 13 points, 10 coming in the second half. Also contributing were freshman guard Melissa Zornig with nine points and six assists, and senior forward Margaret Johnson who had five points and six rebounds.
With Maly-Karros out, Irvine was led by senior guard Jade Smith-William’s 19 points and junior forward Taylor Champion’s 14.
“I like seeing Emilie’s 17 points on seven of 11 shooting with two turnovers,” Gottlieb said. “Smith-Williams had to take more shots to get hers. I thought we did a really good job feeding off each other.”
Johnson noted that she battled Smith-Williams the entire night.
“If she scored on me, I kind of took that personal and wanted to get her back,” Johnson said. “It’s fun playing against a great point guard in the conference. With her, you can’t take a possession off or she will make you pay.”
With only five conference games left in the season, UCSB is approaching a critical point in its schedule.
“I told them afterwards that if Irvine had beaten us we would have been tied record-wise, but with our win we are tied with Davis,” Gottlieb said.
Third-place UCSB is next set to host Riverside on Saturday. With a victory, the Gauchos would pass the Highlanders for second in the conference.
Tip-off Saturday against Riverside is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Thunderdome.