For the UCSB women’s basketball team, the winter break enjoyed by most students proved only one thing: the more things change, the more they remain the same.
So while the Gauchos struggled through a difficult non-conference schedule to a 4-5 record, it was back to business once Big West play began, as Santa Barbara opened league play with a pair of victories. The wins, a 73-55 defeat of Idaho and a 105-60 victory against Northridge, provided some much-needed relief for a UCSB squad which had faced three top-25 teams in its first nine games.
After a heart-breaking loss at Virginia, the Gauchos started their winter break on the right foot, dismantling Stephen F. Austin 75-55 on Dec. 7. UCSB roared out to a 12-4 lead early and never looked back, using a 26-7 run to end the half 42-23. Santa Barbara continued the rout in the second half, led by sophomore center Lindsay Taylor’s 10 second-half points. Taylor finished with a game-high 18 points.
The Gauchos then hit the road for their much-anticipated rematch with national runner-up, and seventh-ranked Purdue, a team UCSB lost to in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. For most of the game it appeared as though Santa Barbara was the top-10 team, while UCSB took a 36-29 lead into the locker room. However, Santa Barbara was unable to maintain its advantage in the second frame and was ultimately done in by a 19-0 Boilermaker spurt, losing 82-67.
However, the Purdue defeat was not a complete disappointment, as it served as a coming out party for freshman forward Kristen Mann. The Foothills High School graduate recorded her first ever double-double, pouring in 20 points and pulling down 13 boards in the defeat.
Santa Barbara responded to its loss at Purdue with perhaps its most complete game of the season against St. Mary’s, returning home for an 84-61 victory. Sophomore forward Lisa Willett, junior guard Jess Hansen and freshman guard Mia Fisher all tallied 14 points in the win to lead UCSB. But the Gauchos hot shooting was not limited to their trio of leading scorers and Santa Barbara shot 59.3 percent as a team, the fourth-best field goal percentage in school history.
UCSB then enjoyed an 11 day break for the holidays before returning to action on Dec. 30 at UNLV. The Gauchos’ extended layoff worked against them early, as a rusty Santa Barbara squad fell behind by 18 at the half, trailing 43-25. The UCSB deficit was due in a large part to its inability to contain Rebel guard Constance Jinks, who pumped in 20 first-half points, and 33 for the game.
A spirited rally in the second period, led by senior forward Kayte Christensen, pulled UCSB to within five at 57-52. However the Gauchos would get no closer, as Jinks scored eight of UNLV’s final 14 points to secure the 71-62 win. Mann once again played well on the road, pacing UCSB with 15 points, while Christensen finished with 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
The Gauchos continued their win-one, lose-one pattern in their next contest with a convincing defeat of the Vandals in the Big West opener for both teams. Idaho led for most of the first half, getting 15 early points from guard Meg LeBlanc, and taking a 21-13 lead midway through the first half. UCSB then flexed its collective muscle, scoring 18 straight points to go up by 10. Junior guard Debby Caine dropped in eight points during the run, including back-to-back treys. With the three-pointers, Caine took over first place in three-point percentage in the Big West.
The second half proved to be more of the same for Santa Barbara, which extended its lead to as much as 21 points during the period. Paced by four players in double-figures, Taylor with 16, Caine with 15, Christensen with 14 and Mann with 13, UCSB rolled to its seventh-consecutive victory in conference openers.
UCSB finally secured its first back-to-back wins of the season with its demolition of Northridge. Christensen led the rout for Santa Barbara, pouring in a career-high 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Freshman Brandy Richardson also got the double-double act, recording the first of her career, scoring 12 points and tying Christensen with a game-high 14 boards. With the win, Santa Barbara moved into first place in the Big West with a 2-0 record.
The Gauchos will step out of conference play in their next two contests, traveling to battle Pacific-10 members Arizona on Jan. 14 and Oregon State on Jan. 16.