And just like that, they’re back.
In the battle for first place at the Thunderdome on Saturday night, the #19 UCSB women’s basketball team proved that it is by far and away the best team in the Big West. In front of 3,087 loyal supporters, the Gauchos trounced Long Beach State 70-48, in a game marked by milestones and career-best efforts.
Senior guard Jess Hansen scored five points against the 49ers to become just the 17th player in Santa Barbara history to register 1,000 points in their tenure as a Gaucho. Hansen, who remained quite offensive for most of the game, responded midway through the second half with a pull-up 17-foot jumper from the top of the key. Then, just minutes later, the captain from Oregon City, Ore. nailed a three in the corner to join the elite 1,000-point club.
“[The milestone] is all I’d been hearing the last couple of days at practice,” Hansen said. “I had my parents here, so it was nice to get it. It was really fun to be out there.”
On any other night, junior center Lindsay Taylor would have been the center of attention for her efforts against LBSU. Taylor, who sunk 14-14 free throws last week against Irvine, nailed 11 in a row from the charity stripe against the Beach and made 9-12 shots from the floor. The contender for Big West Player of the Year knocked down 30 points, a career-high, in just 26 minutes of action. Taylor started the game with a three-point bucket and didn’t look back, proving unstoppable in either the post or out on the perimeter.
“[The three-pointer] just set us off on the right foot,” Taylor said. “I’m just trying to play the way that I know I can. I shot more on the outside of the key than I’m normally used to, but I just shot when I was open.”
Sophomore forward Kristen Mann also gave the Gauchos (14-3 overall, 7-1 in conference) more productivity off the bench. Mann notched her second-straight double-double, hammering down 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
“I thought we did really well tonight,” Mann said. “We passed the ball really well, especially to Lindsay.
Santa Barbara forced the 49ers (8-9, 5-1) to shoot just 16 percent from the field in the first half and held LBSU to 16 points. Senior forward Glory Johnson and sophomore forward Candice Wilson combined to shoot 2-19 for the 49ers in the opening frame. The Gauchos cruised in the second half but only outscored Long Beach by two after halftime.
“I think the challenge when we go up ahead in the first half is to continue to keep that intensity up,” Hansen said.
The Gauchos host Pacific on Wednesday at 7 in the Thunderdome as a chance for redemption with the Tigers. UOP, of course, handed UCSB 74-65 defeat in Stockton back on Jan. 18. The loss to Pacific is Santa Barbara’s only Big West loss this season.