Santa Barbara kicked off the weekend early on Thursday night by celebrating the coming out party for sophomore forward Kristen Mann.

The #19 UCSB women’s basketball team used an early-game lead to cruise to a convincing 77-58 victory over 3rd-place Irvine in the Thunderdome. Mann dominated the Anteaters in the post, getting the bulk of the load down low after sophomore forward Haddy Sarr left the game early on in the first half due to nagging knee problems. In just her fifth game this season, Mann hit the glass for 10 boards and buried 17 points in 27 minutes.

“Kristen can really play well down in the post,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “It was nice to get her some minutes. She was exhausted by the end but that’s great. There’s no better way to get back into shape.”

Junior center Lindsay Taylor led the Gauchos in the scoring department, registering 18 points despite hitting the bench early to rest up when the game got out of hand. The 6’8″ post hit just 2-6 shots from the field but set a school record at the free throw line, nailing an uncanny 14 straight from the charity stripe.

“I was trying not to think about [the free-throw streak],” Taylor said. “We shoot a lot [of free-throws] during the week and I’m finally getting back to my form.”

Sophomore guard Mia Fisher showed that she just might be the most consistent back court player in the Big West. Fisher nailed 5-6 shots, dribble-driving and spotting up most of the night.

Santa Barbara shot 50 percent from the floor, holding UCI to a paltry 31.3 mark. Simply put, the Gauchos win when they win the battle of the boards and out-shoot their opponents at the free throw line. UCSB went 17-23 at the line, limiting the Anteaters to 3-7 shooting with just one attempt in the first half. Santa Barbara manhandled UCI on the glass, grabbing 51 rebounds and holding Irvine to just 31.

“It’s always nice to play [at the Thunderdome],” Mann said. “I just love being in this environment, it always makes it easy to play well.”

The win moves Santa Barbara (14-3 overall; 7-1 in the Big West) into first place after conference-leading Long Beach dropped its first loss in Big West competition last night 61-56 to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. UCSB meets the 49ers on Saturday night at 7 in the Thunderdome and a win would begin to separate the Gauchos from the rest of the pack in the Big West.

“I would’ve been very pleased if [Long Beach State] came here undefeated,” French said. “I always love playing Long Beach.”