Ever since Hawaii joined the Big West last season, every matchup between the Rainbow Wahine and the UCSB women’s basketball team has been a close contest.
The first matchup of this season was no exception.
Nevertheless, no matter the margin, a loss is a loss as Santa Barbara could not come away with the victory, falling 63-30.
“At the end of the day, it’s tough when you’re in the game for 40 minutes and play so hard and compete and leave it all on the court and the scoreboard doesn’t indicate the game we played,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “But, my head’s still up; these players are going to keep their heads up because we played a really good team and we had every opportunity to win.”
Halfway through Big West play, the Gauchos now stand at 6-15 overall and 1-7 in conference, losers of eight of their last nine. Hawaii improves to 11-9 overall and 5-3 in league.
“It’s my responsibility to make sure we focus on what we need to do and continue to stay positive and stay together,” Mitchell said. “We’re now at the halfway mark of Big West play and I will not give up. There will be no fat lady singing until hopefully we’re cutting down nets at the Honda Center.”
Down three just minutes into the second half, senior guard Destini Mason picked up her fourth foul. Mitchell decided to leave her senior in the game. The decision paid off as Mason scored UCSB’s next five points, sparking a 9-2 run to take a 42-36 advantage.
“That’s always a tough decision from a coach’s standpoint (to leave her in with her fourth or take her out),” Mitchell said. “You’re looking at [Mi’Chael Wright and Melissa Maragnes] as freshmen and Clair only being here a couple weeks, so I had to go with a senior and trust she’d make the right decisions and not foul out. We needed her on the court.”
However, Hawaii would not go away. The Rainbow Wahine kept the score close by getting to the free throw line, shooting 22-24 from the charity stipe, including 19-20 in the second half, compared to just 3-6 for the Gauchos.
Up three with three minutes remaining, Hawaii went to its star in senior forward Kamilah Jackson. Despite a quiet night due to foul trouble early, she stepped up in critical moments, scoring six straight points for the Rainbow Wahine to give her team a three point lead with under a minute to go. Jackson finished with 14 points in 18 minutes.
“We were playing a three-two trap and we kept opening up the inside,” Mitchell said. “We had to cut to that low block because that’s where she wants to work, so I’ll have to look at and see if it was our weak side guard not dropping down for a rebound or if it was our back line not full fronting her.”
Twice in the final minute, freshman guard Onome Jemerigbe drove into the lane and converted a lay-up to bring her team within one.
However, at 61-60 with 18 seconds left on the clock, UCSB tried for the steal rather than fouling right away. Hawaii ran the clock down to just seven seconds, which gave the Gauchos little time to get down the court to get a decent three point look after the Rainbow Wahine sunk both free throws.
“We knew going into the game they weren’t really playing with a true point guard, so we were trying to get them off-balance (by trapping), trying to get them to force turnovers and speed them up a bit,” senior guard Nicole Nesbit said.
The Gauchos couldn’t get a three point shot off as Hawaii took the foul to ensure Santa Barbara would have no opportunity to tie the game and the Gauchos lost their fourth consecutive game.
While Hawaii’s big lineup proved a tough match-up for UCSB, one matchup that worked well for the Gauchos was senior guard Melissa Zornig, who was guarded by senior guard Sydney Haydel. Santa Barbara went through and to Zornig all night and she finished with a team-high 16 points.
“They were all power forwards, so they had the mismatch on us, but Coach Mitch told us before the game that that means [we have] mismatches too,” Zornig said. “I’ve just been trying to focus on staying relaxed and not focusing on my shot.”
Nesbit also added 13 points and four assists while Jemerigbe tallied 10 points. While not in double-figures Mason was critical, scoring nine points and grabbing a career-high four steals.
UCSB has a bye Saturday and then will return to action next Thursday when it hosts Long Beach State.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.