The UCSB women’s basketball team is in desperate need of a victory after three straight losses, and a win against rival Cal Poly Saturday afternoon might be the perfect remedy.
The Gauchos begin a three-game homestand currently sitting in seventh place in the Big West (3-5 in conference, 8-12 overall). Coming off two straight wins at home, the Mustangs are tied for third with UC Irvine (5-3, 8-12).
We just have to keep fighting and not let losses get us down,” senior forward Kelsey Adrian said. “[This game is] big and we’re excited to have them in the T-dome.”
If there’s one key to this game for UCSB, it’s shutting down Cal Poly’s all-star, forward Kristina Santiago, who racked up her third Big West Player of the Week honor this week. The 6’2’’ redshirt senior ranks fifth in the nation in points (23.3 per game), 10th in field goal percentage (56.1 percent), and 23rd in rebounds (10.2 per game).
“She’s going to get her points, but we have to keep her from getting easy baskets and pressure her defensively,” Adrian said. “[Then] we need to box her out and not let her get any easy second chance points.”
Junior center Kirsten Tilleman will have the responsibility of guarding Santiago and had success in their last matchup, holding Santiago below her average.
In fact, in their first meeting of the season on Jan. 31 in which UCSB lost 61-58, it wasn’t Santiago that ultimately killed the Gauchos. Instead, it was senior guard Ashlee Burns, who converted a three-point play with 2.3 seconds remaining.
“They were running an out-of-bounds play and we were hoping to get a stop so that we could get the last shot or go into overtime,” Adrian said. “Someone got hit on a screen and [Burns] went to the basket and made the layup. It was pretty tough to see that.”
UCSB did own a lead coming out of halftime, but allowed an 11-2 run by the Mustangs. Sophomore guard Melissa Zornig led the Gauchos offensively with 16 points.
“We continue to say [we need] consistency and a sense of urgency,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We understand that we can’t wait until the last five minutes to come back.”
Expect an offensive versus defensive battle because the two teams’ styles are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Cal Poly loves to score, leading the Big West in scoring with 72.3 points per game and three-point field goal percentage at 33.5 percent.
UCSB, on the other hand, depends on their defense. They have set the bar for best scoring defense, allowing just 50.8 points per game and holding teams to 37 percent shooting.
“We’ve been holding teams to really low scoring games and we know that if our defense is there, it’ll be a close game,” Adrian said.
Sophomore guard Nicole Nesbit continues to lead the team in scoring with 9.3 points per contest. Usually the spark off the bench, Nesbit received the nod to start against USC and is expected to start again. Coach Mitchell hopes that Nesbit will aid in pushing the Gauchos out of their shooting funk.
“I think it’s become a mental thing,” Mitchell said. “Those shots will fall.
While Adrian agreed, she was quick to add, “We’ll be good against Cal Poly.”
Now there’s the true spirit of rivalry.
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. at the Thunderdome. At halftime, UCSB will honor the next Legend of the Dome, Erin Alexander.