Lack of consistency has been the UCSB women’s basketball team’s weakness all season long.
Falling victim to coming out slow in both halves has resulted in a poor conference season for the Gauchos. However, after the team’s most devastating loss last Thursday to last-place UC Riverside, Santa Barbara rebounded for a convincing 64-54 victory over Cal State Fullerton on the road Saturday night.
“[This win] was huge,” junior center Clair Watkins said. “They’re just coming off a win against Cal Poly, so to beat a team that’s beat a higher-ranked team in our conference is a big step for us. It’s been a long season, but we have four games left and I think we’re peaking and it feels really good to win and we want to keep doing it.”
After giving up 44 second-half points the last time these two teams met up, allowing CSUF to come back from a 10-point halftime deficit to win, and allowing UC Riverside 48 second-half points in Thursday’s loss, Santa Barbara held Fullerton to 32 points in the final period for just 54 points on the game.
The Gauchos also held a Titan team that is known to live and die by the three to just 4-21 shooting from behind the arc.
“I’m still mad because at one point I looked up and they had 39 and they ended up with 54. We had a lot of collapses late in the game, but [the key was us mixing] it up tonight,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “I think a lot of teams are nervous to play Fullerton because they can shoot it so well. By extending our zone, it was causing some issues [for them].”
Plus, on a guard-driven team, UCSB finally found its post presence inside. At 6’4’’, Watkins headed the Gauchos’ zone defense and her height helped hold Fullerton from downtown. Then on offense, she earned the first double-double of her career with 10 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
“That’s the personality and identity we’ve been looking for,” Mitchell said. “We had an inside presence (tonight) and it makes a world of difference when you can get double figures from an inside post player. That, by far, was the biggest difference in what we did tonight over any of our previous  games.”
With the win, Santa Barbara improves to 8-17 overall and 3-9 in the Big West, keeping its playoff hopes alive with four games remaining on the season. Fullerton drops to 6-6 in conference and 10-15 overall.
The Gauchos began the game with energy, going on a 9-0 run, which UCSB held onto to take a 28-22 lead going into halftime.
Coming out of the locker rooms, UCSB continued to increase its lead, extending the margin to 19 points with just under four minutes remaining. While Fullerton made a push in the final minutes, the large lead would be enough to keep the Titans at bay.
“We were excited at halftime and happy about the way we were playing. We looked at each other and said, ‘They came back last time. We don’t want it to happen again,’” Watkins said. “There was a will to win because we just didn’t want a repeat of last time. The last couple minutes, I think everyone had a slight heart attack on the bench, but we were able to pull it out.”
On the offensive end, UCSB shot 49.1 percent from the field compared to 33.9 percent for Fullerton. The Gauchos also outscored the Titans 32-22 in the paint.
Although the Gauchos gave up a game-high 29 points to Titan senior guard Alex Thomas, Santa Barbara featured three players in double figures. While senior guard Nicole Nesbit led the team with 19 points and six rebounds on 8-16 shooting, it was a career night for senior guard Melissa Zornig, who reached the 1,000-point mark with her first basket of the game. Zornig finished the night with 18 points and four assists.
“[She brings] so much consistency and leadership. She’s a very selfless player and it’s encouraging to coach someone who will do anything for the team to win,” Mitchell said. “She wasn’t worried about the thousandth point, but it’s nice for her to be able to have that for her scrapbook someday and to be able to sit down with the grandkids and let people know that back in the day that she was a scorer.”
UCSB returns home next weekend for its final road series of the regular reason, facing UC Irvine Thursday.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of Feb. 24th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.