The last time the UCSB women’s basketball team played Hawaii was in 1997 and it wasn’t a close game as the Gauchos lost 91-66.
However, Saturday night in the Rainbow Wahine’s first matchup against Santa Barbara since entering the Big West, the Gauchos edged out Hawaii 51-50 in a game that went down to the wire.
UCSB has now won two consecutive games to go 2-1 on its three-game road trip, improving to 8-11 overall and 4-3 in the Big West. The Gauchos also handed Hawaii its first home loss during conference play. The Rainbow Wahine drop to 9-10 overall and 5-3 in league.
“[Hawaii was] undefeated at home, so we came in here as the underdog and everyone expecting us to lose,” junior guard Melissa Zornig said. “It felt good to come in here and win.”
The game was close throughout, featuring four ties and 11 lead changes.
Down 50-49 with just over a minute and a half remaining, senior center Kirsten Tilleman was able to come up with a steal, diving on the floor to gain possession and call a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Tilleman was fouled going for an offensive rebound. Despite missing the one-and-one attempt, she was able to rebound her own miss, giving UCSB possession of the ball with 29 seconds remaining.
“[Tilleman is] playing with a whole different sense of urgency,” Head Coch Carlene Mitchell said. “She refused to lose tonight and that’s what we get from her every night — the big plays and the hustle plays.”
That set the stage for junior guard Nicole Nesbit, who used a screen from senior forward Sweets Underwood to drive down the right side and drain a layup to give the Gauchos a one point lead with just 12.5 seconds remaining.
“There was no doubt we wanted Nic to come off a down screen,” Mitchell said. “She gets her shoulder around extremely well, so it was a play call to her and she executed it.”
Playing defense during the final possession, Underwood was able to knock the ball out of bounds with 0.7 seconds left. 6’2’’ junior center Pua Kailiawa was subbed into the game for Hawaii to take the last-second shot, but missed the jumper to give Santa Barbara back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-December.
“We were taking high switches on everything,” Mitchell said. “With 0.7 on the clock, we knew it had to be a chip, so we wanted to put pressure on the ball. They got a good look, but I think our kids did a great job for 40 minutes on the defensive end, holding them to 50 points.”
The win was also the first come-from-behind victory for the Gauchos as the team trailed 25-23 at halftime.
“We found a way to win, so I’m extremely proud of that,” Mitchell said. “We kept making big plays and getting stops. From top to bottom, it was a great effort.”
For the second straight game, UCSB found its offensive rhythm, shooting 47.8 percent from the field.
Zornig led all players with 15 points on 7-10 shooting and four assists. Underwood also tallied 13 points while Nesbit contributed nine. Tilleman also added nine rebounds.
“[Zornig] did a great job of attacking,” Mitchell said. “Her threes didn’t fall early in the game, [but] she’s working hard on being a complete player. It was her night and her number was called and she made big plays in the second half.”
UCSB’s next game will be Thursday when the team hosts UC Riverside.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of January 28th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.