Ariana Elegado loves playing UCSB.
The first time the Gauchos played Cal Poly, she put up 30 points.
Yesterday in Santa Barbara, the junior guard totaled a career-high 32 points, leading the Mustangs to a 79-68 victory and spoiling UCSB’s senior day.
“I’m disappointed for the seniors because like I told them, this is a once in a lifetime moment that you want to remember,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “But you can’t fault the effort. We had some shining moments and some scary moments.”
Despite playing arguably their best game of the year, the Gauchos drop to 3-13 in the Big West and 8-21 overall. Cal Poly, on the other hand, improves to 11-5 in conference and 17-12 overall, clinching the second seed in the Big West Tournament. The loss is the seventh straight to the Mustangs.
With the regular season done, UCSB now waits on the UC Riverside game tonight at 7 p.m., which will determine if the Gauchos go to the Big West Tournament. Hosting Long Beach, the Gauchos need Riverside to lose as the Highlanders own the tiebreaker.
“We’ll just pray that the basketball gods are with the Gauchos and they know we still haven’t played our best basketball yet,” Mitchell said. “There’s a game later tonight that controls our destiny and that’s unfortunate.”
A back and forth game the entirety of the contest, Santa Barbara took a 58-57 lead with 7:13 remaining off a layup from senior guard Destini Mason. However, the lead would be short-lived as Cal Poly’s league-leading offense took over.
While the Mustangs shot just 8-24 from three-point range, Cal Poly drained three triples down the stretch, two coming from Elegado. On the game, Elegado shot 11-22 from the field, including 6-13 from downtown.
“There were communication breakdowns. We tried to mix it up more than normal, so maybe our kids weren’t as comfortable,” Mitchell said. “Late in the game, [Elegado] knocked down two critical threes and pretty much sealed the game. A great player like that, you give her an inch and she’s going to knock it down. She willed her team to a win today.”
While Elegado erupted on the offensive end, UCSB did a solid job on 6’5’’ star Molly Schlemer. The Gauchos held Schlemer to 13 points and 10 rebounds, compared to her 37 point, 15 rebound performance in San Luis Obispo.
In fact, junior center Clair Watkins outplayed Schlemer, tallying a double-double on a career-high 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“Cal Poly’s a big rivalry game and Schlemer had quite a few points last game,” Watkins said. “I just wanted to come out here and help my teammates and seniors and prove that UCSB can definitely hang with Cal Poly.”
Offensively, Santa Barbara actually outshot Cal Poly 43.7 percent to 39.7 percent, but was unable to get key defensive stops down the stretch.
Along with Watkins, all three seniors finished in double-figures on senior day. Mason also tallied a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“It was difficult (playing on senior day),” Mason said. “It was very emotional, but I tried to look past it and be like. ‘It’s a normal game.’ But everyone comes to you and says ‘it’s your senior day,’ so you can’t ignore it. You have to embrace it.”
If UCSB earns the final spot into the conference tournament, it will play next Tuesday at Long Beach State against the fifth seed.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.