Everyone knew that the UCSB women’s basketball could not keep its conference winning streak going forever.
Nobody thought that it would end this weekend.
But that’s exactly what happened, as the Gauchos fell 76-70 to Cal Poly on Friday night at Mott Gym. The loss was Santa Barbara’s first in 50 conference games, and the outcome was even more surprising since UCSB had been playing its best basketball of the season heading into the contest.
“I think we just weren’t mentally prepared,” senior guard Rachelle Rogers said. “They just made their shots when they needed to and did all the little things that we didn’t do.”
In a back-and-forth first half, the Gauchos (13-7, 7-1 in the Big West) fell behind early, 8-2, while the Mustangs (9-12, 3-5) came out confident in front of a boisterous home crowd of 1,114 fans. UCSB managed to temporarily silence the Mustangs’ fans by taking a 14-9 lead with 13 minutes remaining in the first half. The two teams then battled to ties at both 14 and 17 points apiece, with neither team able to find its rhythm.
The lead exchanged hands five more times before freshman forward Lisa Willett hit two free throws to tie the game once again, this time at 28-all.
At that point Cal Poly seemed to take control by running off nine straight points. Mustang guard Odessa Jenkins nailed a jumper at the buzzer to give the Mustangs a 39-31 halftime lead.
Despite being down eight at the half, UCSB was confident that it could erase the deficit and continue its winning streak.
“We were frustrated,” freshman forward Jessica Combs said. “But we did think that we would take control and win in the second half.”
The Gauchos, who had not trailed at the half in a conference game all season, appeared to be in a daze at the start of the second half, turning the ball over on countless possessions. The Gauchos coughed up the ball 28 times in the game, compared to only 19 by Cal Poly.
The Mustangs managed to capitalize on the Gauchos’ poor ball handling by taking a 45-35 lead early in the second half. Nevertheless, UCSB was on the verge of a comeback when senior forward Nicole Greathouse hit a short hook to pull Santa Barbara within three, 48-45. But Cal Poly responded with a 6-0 run to reclaim a nine-point lead, 56-47, midway through the period.
With its winning streak on the line, UCSB cut the deficit to eight on sophomore point guard Debby Caine’s three-pointer. Momentum seemed to swing to Santa Barbara, but Greathouse, who finished with a game-high 17 points, threw the ball away on consecutive possessions, foiling another golden opportunity for the Gauchos.
Following the turnovers, the Mustangs took their largest lead of the night at 66-53 on senior guard Jennifer Sorosky’s free throws with three and a half minutes remaining in the contest.
Led by Greathouse, Santa Barbara made one final gasp, cutting the Mustang lead to six with 25 seconds left to play. But UCSB was forced to foul, and Cal Poly made its free throws down the stretch.
The Gauchos are now left scratching their heads about the loss and must regroup before facing Irvine on Wednesday at the Thunderdome. But junior forward Kayte Christensen says that the team will not have trouble bouncing back from the stunning loss, and that the defeat could serve as a valuable learning experience.
“[The loss] was a huge eye opener,” Christensen said. “It showed us that we can’t mess around, but I expect everyone to come out and prove it to ourselves and our coaches that we can play better. I’m just glad that we lost now instead of in the Big West Tournament.”