The UCSB women’s basketball team is receiving plenty of experience with close games.
Prior to yesterday’s contest against Pepperdine, four of the Gauchos’ six games had been decided by five points or less.
Playing in another game that was decided in the final minutes, Santa Barbara erased a 14 point first half deficit, coming from behind to defeat the Waves 77-69.
“We’re starting to figure it out. We’re starting to find ways to win and I’m really, really enjoying that,” senior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “It’s always really fun when you have girls that are willing to battle it out for 40 minutes.”
Down the stretch, the Gauchos’ seniors stepped up and made clutch free throws, going 10-10 from the line. Tied at 67 with just over a minute and a half remaining, senior guard Melissa Zornig was fouled on her shot. She hit both free throws to give her team a two point lead and then Nesbit was fouled on her drive nearly a minute later, resulting in a four point advantage for UCSB after she drained both her foul shots. The two possession game would prove too much for the Waves to overcome.
For the second consecutive game, Nesbit set a new career-high, tallying 26 points in the victory.
“She’s just a warrior,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “I think sometimes against zones she gets hesitant, so I just challenged her to take over and that’s not a first for her anymore. Now she knows she can do whatever it takes for us to win and she shouldn’t feel bad if she needs to take 20, 10 or 50 shots for us to win.”
UCSB improves to 4-3 overall, including 1-2 on the road, while Pepperdine drops to 2-6.
“We had an attack mentality,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes in the past, our team has played not to lose instead of playing to win and I think our kids tonight knew they were going to win the game.”
While the score might resemble a solid game by the Gauchos, the majority of the first half looked just the opposite for Santa Barbara. Grabbing 10 offensive rebounds and taking advantage of nine UCSB turnovers, Pepperdine jumped out to an early double-digit lead.
The nine first half turnovers were only 3.5 less than the team’s season average of 12.5 per contest. However, UCSB gave the ball away just four times in the second half.
“I think we were all kind of shaky (in the first half),” Zornig said. “When we play teams that play a zone, a lot of times we stand still and we freeze and a lot of times we panic and don’t know what to do.”
Rather than waiting for the halftime break to regroup, UCSB found its stride with 2:13 to go in the first half. A jumper by Destini Mason sparked a 10-2 run to end the half, which was extended to a 17-4 to begin the second half, closing the gap to one point only two minutes into the second half.
With a variety of players giving quality minutes in the second half, the Gauchos grinded out their second consecutive road victory. Mason and Zornig both came close to totaling double-doubles, combining for 29 points and 17 rebounds while junior guard Kristine Brance added eight points, all of which came in the second half, and five rebounds. Sophomore guard Jasmine Ware also contributed six points and five boards.
“It was a great win. I’m not going to hesitate on that one,” Mitchell said. “We got critical minutes off our bench. Nic, Mel and Destini have been really consistent in their play, but we can’t win when they’re having to play 40 minutes a game, so tonight we were able to trust Kristine, Jasmine and [freshman forward Mi’Chael Wright] to give us at least 10 or 15 minutes and produce while they were out there, so I think that was instrumental that we had all nine players getting minutes.”
UCSB receives just one day of rest before returning home to play Northern Arizona Thursday.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.