After a devastating 45-42 loss to ninth-place Riverside last night in a game that went down to the buzzer, the UCSB women’s basketball team will have to rebound quickly to take on Fullerton Saturday as the team looks to win its 40th consecutive game against the Titans.
For the Gauchos, the loss snaps a two-game winning streak and drops the team to 8-12 overall and 4-4 in the Big West.
“It’s extremely disappointing that we wait and we wait and then we play with the sense of urgency that we should’ve stepped on the court with when the ball went up at the initial tip,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We’ll continue to look for answers why, but this is what I know: it’s okay. As disappointed as these kids and the staff and the fans are, we know how good we can be.”
Santa Barbara also falls to just 2-6 in the Thunderdome. As UCSB is desperate to win at home, Fullerton might be the perfect opponent considering that the Titans are 1-6 on the road.
“[At home], it’s not just basketball,” Mitchell said. “They’re still going to class, they’re around their friends and they have family in the stands. Is that added pressure? It shouldn’t be, but it’s like missing one free throw. It’s contagious and now we have an epidemic that we are continuing to battle at home. If you’ve seen us play on the road to watching us play on the road, we’re a totally different team.”
Fullerton also lost last night, falling in a 78-40 blowout against Cal Poly. It was the fourth straight loss for the Titans, who currently stand at 3-5 in conference and 7-13 overall.
Like Riverside, Fullerton is led by its guards. Sophomore guard Chante Miles paces the team offensively with 12.4 points per game, which ranks ninth in the Big West. She also averages 3.5 assists per game and 2.6 steals per contest, good enough for fifth and third in the league, respectively.
“Fullerton’s tough,” Mitchell said. “They have lightning quick guards, a lot like Riverside. And they’re going to play us a combination of pressure man-to-man and 2-3 zone. So it’ll be close to what we saw tonight (against Riverside).”
Against Riverside, UCSB was unable to handle the defensive pressure. The Gauchos turned the ball over 17 times compared to the Highlanders’ 12 and points off turnovers favored Riverside 20-6.
“I don’t think it came down to that last possession. I think over the course of the game we made little mistakes that in the end, cost us the game,” senior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “We knew that Riverside brings a good defensive presence and it’s about being strong with the ball and making the easy passes and we had a little bit of a tough time.”
The Gauchos got off to a quick start, taking an early 11-5 lead due to 41.7 percent shooting. However, Riverside went on a 10-0 run sparked by junior center Natasha Hadley as she scored eight points during the run, erasing UCSB’s lead. Santa Barbara would never lead the rest of the game.
Hadley led all scorers with 20 points while also grabbing eight rebounds. She dominated the paint as the Highlanders outscored the Gauchos 22-8 in the paint.
“[Hadley] shoots the ball extremely high, so a double team at the end of the day’s not even going to affect her,” Mitchell said. “We tried to body her up, but we didn’t have an answer.”
UCSB was able to climb back into the game and get within four, but a 6-0 by Riverside gave them their largest lead of the game at 41-31 with 5:12 remaining.
That’s when the Gauchos turned up the intensity. UCSB went on an 8-0 run to close the gap to two points at 43-41 with just under a minute left.
On the next possession, senior guard Angelei Aguirre came up with the steal. Nesbit drove the ball through the right side of the paint and drew the foul with 13 seconds remaining in the game, sending Santa Barbara’s best free throw shooter and second best in the Big West at 86.2 percent to the line to try to tie the ball game.
However, Nesbit missed the first free throw. After making the second, the Gauchos were forced to foul senior guard Tre’Shonti Nottingham, the Big West’s best free throw shooter at 86.4 percent. She sunk both, leaving UCSB down three with seven seconds to go.
Forced to run the full length of the court, the Gauchos were unable to execute offensively and failed to get a shot off, losing 45-42. Riverside improved to 10-9 overall and 3-5 in conference play.
“We were wanting to get the ball into Angelei Aguirre,” Mitchell said. “We had a flair screen set up for Nic to come to the top for a shot and the timing was just bad.”
Along with turnovers, free throws cost Santa Barbara the game. Although UCSB ranks second in the Big West in free throw percentage, averaging 73.4 percent, the Gauchos shot just 56.3 percent from the charity stripe.
“It’s just a matter of relaxing and knocking them down,” senior Sweets Underwood said., who notched her seventh double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “It’s nothing different. It’s on us at the end of the day.”
Tip-off against Fullerton Saturday is set for 2 p.m. in the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of February 1st, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.