Cinderella’s glass slipper nearly fit on the collective foot of the UCSB women’s basketball team.
Playing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the 14th seeded Gauchos proved that they could hang with 1999 National Champions Purdue, trading blows with the Boilermakers for nearly the entire game. But Santa Barbara was foiled once again by shaky ball handling – coughing the ball up 24 times en route to a 75-62 loss to the eventual national runner-up.
“We didn’t play all that well,” sophomore point guard Debby Caine said. “In the beginning we were pumped and ready to go, but we had too many turnovers and some problems on defense which brought us down.”
The loss marked an end to a tumultuous season that saw UCSB overcome obstacles before the season even started. The Gauchos lost last season’s leading scorer, junior guard Erin Buescher, who transferred to Master’s College, and freshman guard Syretta Coleman, who was suspended for shoplifting before playing a single game in a Gaucho uniform. Coleman then sat out with a medical redshirt after playing in only two games.
“Every team has adversity,” senior guard Rachelle Rogers said. “But I think it was really difficult for us because we were so young and didn’t have that much leadership. To overcome [the adversity] was a huge accomplishment.”
Santa Barbara managed to right its ship before Big West play and extended its conference-winning streak to 49 games, while cruising to a 7-0 start. But then the wheels came off as UCSB dropped back-to-back conference games to Cal Poly and Irvine. Yet, the losses served as a rallying point as the Gauchos displayed their intestinal fortitude defeating then #29 Stephen F. Austin 62-57, on the road.
“The two losses helped us to regain our focus,” junior forward Kayte Christensen said. “The only reason that the SFA game was a turning point was because we got away from Santa Barbara. We spent a lot of time together as a team on that road trip.”
Following the nonconference win, UCSB regained its old form. The Gauchos won eight straight games in conference, including topping Cal State Fullerton, Boise State and Long Beach State to win the Big West Tournament and advance to play Purdue.
“I had a lot of fun in my three years here,” Rogers said. “I made a lot of friends, but now I guess it’s time for me to move on.”
The UCSB women’s basketball team will also forge ahead, and next season looks to be promising. The Gauchos will return three starters, Caine, Christensen and sophomore guard Jess Hansen, as well as freshman center Lindsay Taylor, freshman forward Jessica Combs and freshman forward Lisa Willett, all key bench contributors.
“Our recruiting class is awesome, and the team we have back is great,” Caine said. “We can do certain things that will take this team to the next level. Doing the little things will make us an excellent team next year.”