About the only gifts the #22 UCSB women’s basketball team handed its opponents during the winter break were defeats instead of treats.
With only one blemish to a pumped-up Colorado State squad on the road, the Gauchos unwrapped their foes en route to a blazing 7-2 start.
Santa Barbara has certainly seen the light over the last few weeks. The Gauchos highlighted a strong start with an 83-82 overtime upset over then #6 Purdue back on Dec. 18 in the Thunderdome. The Boilermakers forced overtime when junior forward Lindsey Hicks banked home a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in regulation.
The Gauchos stormed out in the extra period. Senior guard Jess Hansen nailed the game-winning three-point basket with 31 seconds in overtime to seal the victory. Purdue is the highest-ranked opponent that the Gauchos have beaten since they upset #5 Florida at home in 1997.
“[The win over Purdue] was definitely a confidence builder,” sophomore guard Mia Fisher said. “We actually just went out there and did it. If you believe in winning, the action is just as easy as talking about a victory.”
A week later and after beating up on Richmond in the first game of the WomensCollegeHoops.com Ram Holiday Classic, the Gauchos blew a comfortable halftime lead against Colorado State to lose 55-44 in the championship game. UCSB committed 27 turnovers and shot just 34 percent from the field offensively. Junior center Lindsay Taylor and junior forward Lisa Willet were named to the All-Tournament team.
“Any time you play someone on their home court you are bound to have a disadvantage,” Fisher said. “We can’t fall asleep at any part of any game. No matter who we play, we can’t slip for one moment.”
The Gauchos made up for a disappointing loss against the Rams by returning home to slay Brigham Young University 65-51 on Jan. 2 and regain composure. Taylor led the way for UCSB with a game-high 18 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. Santa Barbara ended the preseason with a 6-2 mark, a national ranking, and a determination to get the kinks out for Big West competition.
The Gauchos certainly kicked out any kinks on Saturday night as Santa Barbara opened up conference play by defeating Cal State Fullerton 69-33 on the road. The Gauchos raced out to an 18-3 lead to start the game, and the stellar first half defense prevented the Titans (3-9 overall, 1-1 in the Big West) from mounting a comeback. Santa Barbara led 38-10 at the half, the third-lowest output by Fullerton at half in school history, forcing the Titans to 12-percent shooting.
Led by Taylor’s 17 points, four Gauchos scored in double digits. Sophomore forward Brandy Richardson crashed the boards all night long, posting a game-high 15 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
“Our goal this year was not just to go undefeated but also to dominate every team in the Big West,” Taylor said. “Although we played awesome in the first half, we only outscored them by six in the second. We need to play hard for 40 minutes to get us ready for the postseason.”
Despite the loss of sophomore forward Kristen Mann, the 2002 Big West Freshman of the Year, to nagging injuries, the Gauchos have managed to extend the success of last season’s squad to this year.
As expected, Santa Barbara has displayed a team aspect to its scoring. Five players are averaging double digits in scoring. Taylor, averaging 14.7 points and nine rebounds per game, has been the constant threat in the middle that had been expected of her this season after earning the Big West Tournament MVP last year.
The Gauchos resume play tomorrow night at 7 against Cal State Northridge in their Big West home opener. On Thursday night, UCSB will go outside of conference to host USC in the Thunderdome.