Freshmen. They can tantalize you with their raw ability, and they can break your heart with their inexperience. And after last Sunday’s road contest against Virginia, no one knows that better than the UCSB women’s basketball team.
Forced to start due to the Gauchos’ depleted lineup, freshman guard Mia Fisher responded with what was by far her best game at Santa Barbara, scoring a career-high 20 points on 8-10 shooting. But it was a traveling call against Fisher with UCSB trailing 72-71 and 10 seconds remaining in the game that ultimately led to the Gauchos’ third loss of the season. Following the turnover, UVA successfully ran out the clock to secure the victory.
Fisher, however, was not the only freshman to make a considerable contribution against the Cavaliers. Freshman forward Kristen Mann continued her steady play, pouring in 13 points and grabbing four rebounds while playing in the place of sophomore center Lindsay Taylor and senior forward Kayte Christensen, both of whom fouled out in the final six minutes.
“We had very high expectations when [Fisher] came in and she’s living up to them,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “It is surprising that she’s picked it up as quickly as she has. It’s a credit to Mia that she has been able to do that.”
Behind the strong play of Fisher, Santa Barbara was able to build an 11-point second-half lead at 55-44 with under nine minutes remaining in the game. But playing on its own court, UVA responded with a 20-9 run to tie the game at 64-64.
Following the disqualification of both Taylor and Christensen, the Gauchos regained the lead on a Mann jumper at 67-66, setting the stage for a dramatic finish. The Cavaliers answered Mann’s hoop with one of their own to take a one-point lead, only to see Fisher take it back for UCSB, burying two free throws with just over two minutes left. After a UVA layup put the Cavaliers ahead 70-69, junior guard Jess Hansen, who finished with 14 points, nailed a short jumper to give the Gauchos a 71-72 advantage. Unfortunately for Santa Barbara, it was unable to maintain its lead, allowing UVA guard LaTonya Blue to get free for what turned out to be the game-winning layup.
Santa Barbara, also starting freshman forward Brandy Richardson in place of Taylor, got out of the gates slowly, falling behind by five early. But behind the play of Mann and Fisher the Gauchos took their first lead on a Mann jumper at 16-14. But despite the stellar play of Fisher, who scored 10 points in the first nine minutes, UVA rallied to pull within 28-27. Santa Barbara then held the Cavaliers without a field goal for a five-minute stretch to take a 35-31 into halftime.
“We’re disappointed,” Hansen said about the loss. “It was a one-point loss on the road. We should’ve won the game; we were up by nine. But we have nothing to hang our heads about. Things just didn’t go our way down the stretch.”
UCSB now returns home for a Friday showdown with 2001 NCAA Tournament participant Stephen F. Austin State University. The Gauchos defeated the Lady Jacks last season at Nacogdoches, breaking their 27-game home-winning streak.
“I’m sure those players were not happy to have their home-winning streak broken on Senior Night,” French said. “I believe they have four starters back and they’ll be highly motivated to come in here and compete. They’re not as well known in this area of the country, but they’re a high quality program.”