The Thunderdome careers of senior co-captains Kristyn Miller and Kayte Christensen came to a close this weekend in the only acceptable manner for the UCSB women’s basketball team: winning.
That’s winning, as in four consecutive Big West regular season titles for the pair; winning, as in compiling a 63-2 career mark in the Big West up to this point; and winning, as in 16-straight victories this season.
The string of victories continued this Friday at the T-dome when Santa Barbara maintained another tradition: defeating Long Beach State (72-50) for the Gauchos’ 20th straight win over the Beach. Christensen and Miller ended their final season in storybook fashion, avenging their only T-dome loss by leading UCSB to an 80-36 demolition of UC Irvine on Senior Day.
Making the most of her second start of the season, Miller finished just one point shy of her career high, scoring eight points on 4-6 shooting, and grabbing a career-high seven rebounds. Christensen also enjoyed a career-high day against UCI, tying her high mark for rebounds with 16 and pacing the Gauchos with 22 points. With the win, UCSB also clinched at least a share of its seventh consecutive Big West regular season title.
After thrashing the Anteaters, UCSB Head Coach Mark French is one win away from 300 at UCSB. Fullerton is the target on the road this Thursday. Yet Senior Day was a memory for Miller and Christensen to remember forever.
“It was amazing; everything I thought it would be and more,” Miller said of her Senior Day experience. “Seeing the team really behind Kayte and I showed what our program is all about and made me extremely proud to be a part of it.”
But before Miller and Christensen could enjoy their final game at the T-dome, they and the Gauchos were forced to deal with their long-standing rival, LBSU. Already winners at Long Beach, Santa Barbara relied on its trademark defense to carry it to yet another victory against the 49ers.
Trailing 8-7 early, UCSB used its strong defense to ignite a 21-5 burst. Taking a commanding 28-13 lead junior guard Jess Hansen buried a pair of triples during the run, while Christensen added six points. Following the spurt, the Gauchos then appeared to relax a bit, allowing Long Beach to pull within 10 points at the half at 41-31.
Both teams came out ice cold in the second period, as the Gauchos failed to record a field goal until the 14:35 mark when sophomore center Lindsay Taylor converted on a jump hook. The 49ers came out just as frigid though, shooting a paltry 19.4 percent from the field in the second half, seemingly unable to convert on numerous looks close to the hoop.
With LBSU struggling, the Gauchos finally pulled away on the strength of a four-point play from freshman forward Kristen Mann, who nailed a three while being fouled and then sank the free throw.
“That was fun,” Mann said of her four-point play. “It doesn’t happen very often, so I was really focusing on trying to make that free throw to give us momentum.”
Mann, who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, did just that, as Long Beach never seriously threatened UCSB following the three and the foul.
With a share of the Big West Title on the line, the Gauchos came out firing on all cylinders against the Anteaters. After falling behind 2-0, UCSB went on a 16-0 run, holding UCI scoreless for over seven minutes during that span. Using a tight defense to bolster its lead, Santa Barbara went into the half ahead 35-13.
With the outcome already decided, UCSB used the second half to honor its departing seniors, repeatedly finding both Miller and Christensen in scoring position. With time winding down, the Gauchos even went as far as to call a timeout to set up a play for Miller, who was just one point short of her career-high. The play worked to perfection, as Miller found herself wide open out side the three-point arc. Miller’s shot, though, came up short, leaving her with eight points.
“I was a step outside the arc,” Miller said of her record setting attempt. “It was just a little outside my range.”
Despite the miss, UCSB could not have written a much better script to honor their two departing seniors.
“I respect both of them so much,” Mann said, choking back tears. “Both of them have been such great role models for me. Since I got here these two have made the biggest impact on my life, and its really hard to see them go.”