The last time the UCSB and Hawaii women’s basketball teams played in Hawaii, the game went down to the final buzzer. Last night’s matchup between the same two teams was no different.
Unlike the last matchup, though, it was the Rainbow Wahine that emerged with the victory, winning 54-51 in a tight contest that featured six ties and 10 lead changes.
Despite looking more like themselves, UCSB’s home woes continued as the team dropped to 3-8 in the Thunderdome. Overall, Santa Barbara slips to 11-14 overall and 7-6 in the Big West, but holds onto fourth place in the conference standings. Hawaii, meanwhile, improves to 14-11 overall and 10-4 in league as they remain in a tie for first place.
“I’m extremely proud of the way we came ready to play after a disappointing game a few days ago,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “But, of course I’m disappointed. I always expect to win. It was a game we could’ve won.”
After holding Hawaii’s star, junior forward Kamilah Martin, to two points and four rebounds in the first half, Martin took control of the game in the second half. With approximately 16 minutes remaining, Martin went on a 6-0 run.
“[Martin’s] a great player,” Mitchell said. “Six of her 14 points came from the free throw line, so we’ll have to do a better job on getting onto her pivot foot and not bailing her out with a foul as the shot clock’s running down.”
Hawaii fed off of Martin’s energy, seizing the momentum and expanding the lead to seven on a 12-2 run.
“I think it had a lot to do with those first four minutes of the second half,” junior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “We were extremely flat and I think that’s when you saw a momentum change. I think that we let them get physical with us and it took a while for us to fight back.”
Nevertheless, UCSB responded with a 9-2 run to tie the game at 45 all.
“We just started attacking them,” senior forward Sweets Underwood said. “We just have to learn to go at them and start from the beginning.”
With 54 seconds to go, Underwood converted a layup to bring the score to 53-51. The next trip up the court, senior center Kirsten Tilleman forced Martin to turn the ball over and senior guard Destini Mason picked up the steal, giving UCSB possession of the ball with 27 seconds left.
Similar to the play in Hawaii that won the game for the Gauchos, Nesbit dribbled down the right side of the court. As she drove into the key though, she was tied up and the possession arrow gave the ball back to Hawaii.
“I was just attacking,” Nesbit said. “Our mentality was to get to the basket and get fouled. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the foul and they got the possession.”
On the inbounds, UCSB was forced to foul and freshman guard Destiny King headed to the free throw line with a chance to finish the game. However, she only made one of her two free throws, giving UCSB hope and the ball at just a one-possession game.
UCSB called a timeout, the score 54-51 with 4.6 seconds remaining in the game. On the inbounds play, Santa Barbara’s best three-point shooter, junior guard Melissa Zornig, came off a screen and received the ball at the top of the key. Driving to her left, she fired up a three point shot, but unfortunately for the Gauchos, the shot missed off the side of the rim.
“It was the play we wanted; it wasn’t the shot we necessarily wanted because otherwise it would’ve gone in,” Mitchell said. “At the end of day, it shouldn’t have come down to that.”
Offensively, UCSB outshot Hawaii 47.2 percent to 41.9 percent, but the Rainbow Wahine held the rebounding advantage at 27-23. The Gauchos gave up nine offensive boards, including several down the stretch.
“The ultimate difference was I think the offensive rebounds in critical times when the shot clock was going down,” Mitchell said. “When [you] play hard for 28 seconds, give up the offensive board and you send them to the free throw line, I think that probably deflates you as a player at times.”
Underwood led the charge offensively with 16 points while Nesbit chipped in 15. For Hawaii, Martin finished the game with 14 points and eight rebounds, but it was the bench that made the ultimate difference for Hawaii. 26 of the Rainbow Wahine’s 54 points came from the bench as junior guard Shawna-Lei Kuehu and King combined for 23 points.
“We know they have strong, physical guards,” Mitchell said. “Kuehu and King are both wide bodies. [Hawaii] posted [their] guards and unfortunately, you can’t double when you have guards that are going to knock it down.”
Despite a tough loss, UCSB will need to regroup quickly as the team hosts Cal State Northridge Saturday. The Gauchos have won the last 12 matchups against the Matadors.
At 13-13 overall and 7-7 in the Big West, Northridge, like Santa Barbara, is a great defensive team, ranking second in scoring defense at 59.8 points per game and first in steals at 11.6 per game.
“Losing can drive you out of your mind, but last time I checked, we have five more games left and we can control our own destiny,” Mitchell said. “There’s still a lot of season left to be played and the season’s not over with a loss here tonight.”
The last time these two teams met up in Northridge, UCSB defeated the Matadors handily 56-37. The Gauchos shot 46.8 percent from the field, including 57.7 percent in the second half. Then, they held the Matadors defensively to just 24.5 percent shooting.
“They’re an extremely athletic team,” Mitchell said. “They’ll have their best game after we handled them well at their place.”
Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at the Thunderdome.