The only Valentine’s Day gift that the #17 UCSB women’s basketball team received Thursday evening was the first-class plane ticket out of Illinois after beating up on the ladies from the Land of Lincoln.

In a see-saw battle for most of the way, the Gauchos (18-3, 10-1) outlasted the University of Illinois last night in front of 2,387 fans at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill. For a team that has relied on its stifling defense, Santa Barbara depended on its offense and shot the lights out to steal a victory from the Big Ten powerhouse.

Junior center Lindsay Taylor notched her 1,000th career point as a Gaucho at the 16:29 mark on a free throw that extended UCSB’s lead to 10-3. Taylor stormed out of the gate and pounded the smaller Fighting Illini post players all night long. The 2003 Big West Player of the Year candidate led all scorers with 22 points on an incredible 9-11 shooting. After hitting the locker rooms at halftime having already notched three fouls, Taylor did most of her damage in the second half. Remarkably, Taylor scored 12 of her points and seven of her eight rebounds in the second period and in foul trouble.

Senior guard Jess Hansen, whose 1,000 career point milestone came just a couple of weeks ago, snapped out of a shooting slump by registering 14 points on 6 of 8 from the field, including 2-3 from behind the three-point line.

Sophomore swingman Kristen Mann continued her successful comeback and looks to be in mid-season form. After returning from a broken forearm injury on Jan. 25, Mann has returned to lead the Gauchos in scoring by averaging nearly 15 points per game. Against Illinois, Mann nailed 4-9 shots for 10 points while pulling down five rebounds.

“When [Mann] was out, teams could play us better and double-team easier,” Taylor said. “With Kristen Mann on the court, you can’t just leave her alone.”

The Gauchos shot an amazing 60.8 percent from the floor, including a 5-6 explosion from three-point land in the first half. Although the Fighting Illini (14-8) put up 72 points, Santa Barbara stonewalled Illinois to 40.6 percent shooting and just 26.9 percent from behind the arc.

In a losing cause, Illinois had four players post double-digits in scoring. Senior forward Cindy Dallas nailed down a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds.

UCSB now embarks on a new challenge: the #4 team in the country, Louisiana State University.

On Saturday evening in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Gauchos will invade Baton Rouge, La. with the intent of handing the Tigers just their second loss of the 2002-03 season. LSU (21-1) is reeling after a dominating 85-43 win over Southeastern Conference rival Alabama last night at home. The Tigers have won six straight and, if they win out, will likely snag one of the four coveted #1 seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

“The goal is just to play better as a team than our opponent,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “I’m looking for heart and enthusiasm out of our girls; the things we did in our win against Purdue.”