The schedule for the UCSB women’s basketball team listed two games to be played this weekend: one on Friday against the University of the Pacific and one on Sunday against Cal State Northridge.
But for the Gauchos, the two games were the conclusion of an extremely busy stretch, during which they played five games in 10 days. Luckily for Santa Barbara, it had a pair of young, fresh rookie legs to rely on to overcome any fatigue that might have set on Friday.
Those two rookies, forward Kristen Mann and guard Mia Fisher, powered UCSB to a convincing 83-66 victory over UOP before giving way to the Gauchos’ leader, senior forward Kayte Christensen, in Santa Barbara’s 80-53 demolition of the Matadors on Sunday afternoon.
Mann led the UCSB scoring charge on Friday, pouring in a career-high 27 points. Mann upped her previous high of 24 set last Wednesday against Fullerton. The Santa Ana, Calif. native also finished the game with 10 rebounds and six steals, also a career-high.
Fisher, who like Mann has cracked the starting lineup a number of times this season, chipped in with 16 points and four assists.
Not one to let the freshmen have all the fun, Christensen came back with a double-double of her own against the Matadors, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 boards for her eighth double-dip of the season. Junior guard Jess Hansen chipped in 16, while Fisher added 11 and a career-best seven assists for UCSB.
Mann, Christensen and the rest of the Gauchos are currently riding a season-high 12-game winning streak, running their record to 16-5 overall and 10-0 in the Big West conference. Such a run seemed unlikely after a mediocre 4-5 start. The emergence of Mann and Fisher, mixed with the steady play of veterans including Christensen and Hansen, has propelled UCSB to its customary spot atop the Big West conference.
Despite the stellar play of Mann and Fisher, UCSB’s second win over UOP in one week did not come easily. As in their last match-up on Feb. 1 at the Thunderdome, the Gauchos trailed at halftime, this time 35-31. And just as in the first contest, Santa Barbara stormed out of the gates in the second half, using an 11-2 run to regain control and the lead.
Playing at home and with more confidence, the Tigers managed to stay close, largely due to the play of All-Big West guard Selena Ho. After shooting an anemic 4-17 en route to 10 points last week at the T-dome, Ho came back with 16 on a respectable 5-12 from the field, and provided enough clutch baskets to keep UOP within striking distance.
However, Ho was unable to keep up with the duo of Mann and Fisher, who combined to score 27 of UCSB’s 52 second-half points and provided a number of key scores down the stretch.
Ahead 65-62 with just under four minutes to play, Fisher scored for Santa Barbara. Following a UOP hoop, Mann scored on back-to-back possessions to give the Gauchos some breathing room. UCSB then nailed 11-12 free throws to seal the hard-fought victory.
The Gauchos’ final game during their exhausting 10-day stretch proved to be more competitive than expected. After opening up an early 13-4 advantage, UCSB allowed the Matadors to climb back into the game with a 16-3 burst, taking a 20-16 lead. However, Santa Barbara immediately responded with a 14-2 spurt of its own, with Christensen contributing six points during the run. Only Northridge’s sizzling 68.2 shooting percentage in the first half allowed it to remain close, trailing 39-36 heading into the half.
After giving up the first hoop of half number two, UCSB caught fire, scoring 14 straight points to go up 53-38 with just over 12 minutes left to play in the period. Following the burst, Santa Barbara would take control, never allowing its lead to slip below 13 points in the victory.
The Gauchos will receive a four-day break from action before returning to the court this Friday night when they host Long Beach State at 7.