The five-time defending Big West Champion UCSB women’s basketball team began its season with a solid 83-70 exhibition victory over Delta Kosice on Monday evening at the Thunderdome.
The Gauchos used a 17-0 run midway through the second half to pull away from pesky Delta Kosice, a First Division club team in Kosice, Slovakia. Delta kept the game close by making some tough shots.
With seven freshmen joining the 2001-2002 squad, the Gauchos have more questions than answers going into this season. But the electrifying play of some newcomers along with solid performances from the veterans has the Gaucho faithful looking forward to another winning season culminating in a NCAA tournament berth.
Freshmen Mia Fisher and Kristen Mann came off the bench to spark the Gaucho offense in impressive debut performances. Fisher netted 12 points in 19 minutes of play while Mann chipped in 13 points in 16 minutes. Senior Kayte Christensen paced the Gauchos with 17 points.
“We are going to have to be patient,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “We are playing seven freshmen and it will take time for us, as players and coaches, to learn how to use our talent.”
With the influx of new talent, growing pains were evident in the first half as the Gauchos had trouble penetrating the pesky Delta defense. The Slovakian club team jumped out to a 14-11 lead early in the game, highlighted by two three-pointers from Nikola Topolarova and Jana Hradilova.
Following the quick start by Delta, Santa Barbara finally got some consistent offense going, countering the Slovakians with a 7-0 run to retake the lead 18-14, its first lead since going up 4-2. During the run junior guard Jess Hansen had a spectacular no-look pass to sophomore center Lindsay Taylor to get the crowd of 1,104 going.
Neither team could get into any offensive rhythm in the first half. The Gauchos shot .400 from the field, with Delta Kosice not any better, shooting .429. With a Kayte Christensen basket at the buzzer, the Gauchos went into the half with a modest 42-35 lead.
The first 10 minutes of the second half looked like much of the first half with both teams trading baskets with no scoring runs of any sort, with the Gauchos leading 60-52. Then came the Fisher, Debby Caine and co. show.
After a basket from Topolarova, making the score 60-54, the Gauchos gave the subdued crowd a taste of their explosive potential, ripping off 17 straight points with a fast-break offense that fed off a stifling and impenetrable defense.
Fisher put back her own missed shot to make the score 62-54. Caine, a sophomore point guard, dished two straight assists to Taylor and Fisher, giving the Gaucho crowd a reason to get rowdy, and the Gauchos jumped to a 66-54 lead.
After two Caine free throws, Mann proceeded to break Delta’s spirit with an ankle-breaking juke before unleashing a sweet floater to extend the lead to 69-54. Two more Fisher baskets and baskets from Taylor and Caine made the score 77-54, with 6:25 remaining in the contest.
After a first half marked with a couple of forced passes, which led to turnovers, Fisher calmed down and came back with 8 of the 17 points in the run.
“I was really nervous at first but I was able to settle down,” Fisher said. “The whole team has been really patient with me.”
As for Delta Kosice, it went on a run of its own, outscoring the Gauchos 16-6 in the final six minutes, but the damage had been done and the Gauchos easily won. The leading scorer for the Slovakian club team was center Viera Libicova with 19 points.
As for his own thoughts on their winning performance, French remained optimistic and upbeat on the capabilities of his Gaucho squad.
“Our freshmen showed flashes of how good they can be,” he said. “If we defend and rebound well, we should score a lot of points.”
UCSB returns to action this Friday at 7 p.m. when it takes on Team Concept. Team Concept boasts 2001 starter and graduate Nicole Greathouse at the Thunderdome for its final preseason tune up.