The UCSB women’s basketball team defeated Cal State East Bay in its exhibition opener Saturday night by a final score of 78-63.
Although third-year Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson didn’t have a some of her more experienced players due to various minor injuries, a small-ball lineup featuring three freshmen brought the Gauchos energy and an array of scoring early in the game.
“Good thing it was fun,” Henrickson said. “We did some good things, [there are] plenty of opportunities to grow and learn on film. There are some things obviously we need to clean up.”
The Gauchos combined for 22 turnovers, but East Bay had 19 of their own, signaling the sloppy play of an exhibition game.
Freshmen guards Danae Miller and Sarah Bates were instrumental in getting the Gauchos rolling early. Both Miller and Bates showed impressive court vision, combining for 12 assists, but perhaps, more importantly, the freshmen weren’t afraid to take chances.
Even with 6 turnovers between the young Gauchos, Miller and Bates demonstrated their ability to push the ball up court and capitalize in transition. Despite it being an exhibition game, the attitude of UCSB was contagious.
“Really for those three [Miller, Bates and Nina Radford], just to get them some cardio, get them up and down, and recognize it’s probably going to be a little bit ugly from a rhythm and timing standpoint, the effort was good,” Henrickson said. “And I honestly would have been in years past a lot more nervous to start three freshmen, but there’s a maturity about them, there really is.”
The atmosphere in the Thunderdome seemed sparked by the early energy of the Gauchos, and fans applauded as they witnessed the home team go on a 22-0 run.
Holding the Pioneers to 12 points in the first quarter, Santa Barbara showed it can score in a variety of ways, and often in bunches.
With Miller and Bates pushing the tempo, plenty of transition buckets were made, with senior small forward Chaya Durr and junior transfer Akilah Jennings being the beneficiaries of impressive passes.
“I think the one thing that is most improved from last year is our ability to pass,” coach Henrickson said, “not just by one.” Henrickson added later, “When you’re unselfish and you can pass, boy that puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
Scoring 29 points in the first quarter alone, Santa Barbara shot an efficient 73.3 percent (11-15) from the field. Their hot start would prove to be just that, as the Gauchos finished shooting 45.2 percent (28-62) on the night.
The Gauchos scoring presence also came from the three-point line, as Bates herself knocked down two threes and newcomer Tal Sahar hit four threes as part of her promising 14-point debut for UCSB. Ultimately, Santa Barbara put up 27 three-point attempts, converting on 10 to go 37 percent from beyond the arc.
“It felt really good, it was really nerve-wracking, you don’t play for 365 days you don’t really know how it’s going to go”, Tal explained, “But it felt really good and everyone worked really hard in practice [so] the pace didn’t really phase me as much as I thought it would.”
Sahar, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, showed confidence on both ends of the court and the ability to create her own shot off the dribble. Also, the 5’11 redshirt sophomore will clearly be a perimeter threat to opposing teams, forcing them to respect Sahar’s range.
And when the Pioneers caught on to Sahar’s ability to easily knock down the three, the athletic guard showed a high basketball IQ in avoiding pressure, swinging the ball to get the easy bucket.
Redshirt junior guard Sarah Porter contributed seven points on an off-night shooting, going just 2-8 and 1-6 from behind the arc.
Senior Makala Roper used an energetic stretch in the latter part of the game to score a quick 12 points for her team.
Akilah Jennings finished with 13 points and 6 boards for Santa Barbara, and fellow Gauchos Radford and Chaya Durr added a handful of buckets.
Durr, a 6-foot forward, did a little bit of everything for the Gauchos, recording a team-high seven rebounds in addition to 8 points and 3 steals. The senior brought a competitive attitude and posted her diverse stat-line in only 20 minutes of play.
Despite a slow first half in which they only scored 22 points, the East Bay Pioneers used a game-high 25 point performance from sophomore Morgan Greene to get their offense rolling in the second half.
Outscoring Santa Barbara 41-38 in the second half, East Bay controlled the boards during stretches, earning 15 points off second-chance efforts.
Greene led the Pioneers with not only points but rebounds, pulling down a game-high 14 boards (6 of which were offensive).
East Bay’s strong second half kept the Gauchos on their toes, but it wasn’t enough to pull off an upset, as the garbage time of the fourth quarter featured an array of bad passes, missed layups and simple turnovers from both teams.
The game concluded with UCSB dribbling out the clock, and the Pioneers falling to the Gauchos in the Thunderdome. East Bay shot roughly 35 percent (23-66) from the field to go with a sub-par 26.3 percent (5-19) shooting effort from beyond the arc.
“There’s a maturity about them, they come to work every day with a maturity and sense of urgency,” Henrickson said. “They’re silly and goofy off [the court], but when we’re between the lines they want to get it right, they want to be good, they expect to be successful, they expect to work to be successful. I think for us to play a pretty good flow and rhythm, considering so many new people… that was good.”
Following the game, Coach Bonnie, Sahar, and Jennings addressed an excited group in the Founder’s Room of the Thunderdome, pointing to the revived culture of basketball Henrickson has brought to Santa Barbara in her 3rd year at the helm of the program.
With plenty of energy and expectations surrounding them this year, the Gauchos will travel to open their season against Northern Arizona this Friday, November 10 at 7:00 pm.