Sometimes winning isn’t easy to come by, but then again, victories are victories and teams take them any way they come.
The #21 UCSB women’s basketball team toppled Cal Poly on Saturday night at the Mott Gym 65-49 to improve to 13-3 overall and 6-1 in the Big West. Santa Barbara stifled the Mustangs (7-9, 3-3), holding them for a 15-minute stretch without scoring. Clearly though, the story of the game was the much anticipated return of one of the Gauchos’ best players, sophomore guard Kristen Mann.
Mann played relatively well in a limited role, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds in just 22 minutes. The 2001-02 Big West Freshman of the Year was Santa Barbara’s leading scorer through three games this season before a fracture in her left arm sidelined her for 12 straight games.
“It was great to have her out there and back in the lineup,” junior center Lindsay Taylor said. “It relieved a lot of pressure from the rest of us because other players have to worry about her now, too. It’s going to take her some getting used to, but she did great.”
Mann was cleared to play for the Gauchos’ victory over Riverside last Thursday, but the coaching staff didn’t want to role the dice with such a prized talent. There was even speculation that Mann would sit out for the entire year, using up her redshirt season to guarantee a full recovery.
“I’ve been ready to go,” Mann said. “The only pain I’m feeling is from the lack of playing and using my muscles.”
As for now, UCSB, ranked #21 in both the national rankings, stays in second place in the Big West. Long Beach State dismantled Northridge at home on Saturday evening to remain unbeaten in conference, boasting a Big West record of 5-0.
UCSB Head Coach Mark French mixed up the lineup a bit to try and resurrect a squad that has failed to play to its potential during the last two games. Sophomore center Haddy Sarr started in place of Taylor, the Gauchos’ leading scorer. Sarr scored seven points on 3-7 shooting, hauling in four boards. Taylor responded also, coming off the bench to lead the team with 11 points.
“We had some team stuff to work out,” Taylor said. “I’m always used to starting, so it was a little different, but I didn’t let it get to me. Sometimes it’s not important for me to start.”
The Gauchos ended the four-game road trip, their longest of the season, with a 3-1 mark after an unexpected road debacle at Pacific on Jan. 18. Santa Barbara returns home to the Thunderdome for an important three games. On tap is a warm-up game with Irvine on Thursday before hosting conference-leading Long Beach State on Saturday. After the 49ers, the Gauchos will have their chance at redemption when Pacific comes to town.
“I think [the upcoming homestand] is really important for us,” Taylor said. “There are all the top teams, besides us, in the Big West that we’re playing at home, so we are really excited.”