After taking the nation’s fourth-best team to triple overtime last weekend, the #18 UCSB women’s basketball team didn’t let its guard down against streaky Cal Poly.
On Thursday night in the Thunderdome, the Gauchos needed just 15 minutes in the first half to dispose the Mustangs. After trailing 6-4, Santa Barbara finished the half with guns blazing in a 37-8 run. After a 29-point halftime lead, the Gauchos shifted into autopilot and cruised to a 82-43 win.
“If you take off the first few minutes of the first half, we played pretty well,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “We just need to keep our level of intensity high for 40 minutes.”
Cal Poly’s 14-point first half ties the seventh lowest point total that a Santa Barbara defense has allowed in school history. The UCSB offense did its part, registering its highest point total in conference play this year. Junior forward Lisa Willett led four Gauchos in double figures with a game-high 18 points on 8-10 shooting.
“We’ve been working on motion [offense] a lot,” Willett said. “My team just got me a lot of easy layups tonight.”
Earlier Thursday, Willett was named to the Verizon Academic All-District Team for her contributions in the classroom and on the court. The Santa Barbara native averages 8.6 points per game on the hardwood and carries a 3.70 cumulative grade point average as a religious studies major.
“It’s pretty cool to be apart of a great university and be a part of a top-20 team in the nation,” Willett said. “I came [to UCSB] partly because of the academics.”
Making her first start since Nov. 29, 2002 against Florida, sophomore forward Kristen Mann found holes all night in the key. Coming off a career-high 27 points in UCSB’s loss to LSU, Mann netted 11 points on 5-9 shots. Mann posted up senior forward Heather Journey brilliantly, for one turn finger roll after another.
Senior guard Debby Caine played stellar defense and excellent transition offense. Santa Barbara assisted on 23 scores while only turning the ball over 12 times. Caine recorded a game-high seven assists, pushing much of the fast break offense that helped the Gauchos create such a large first-half lead.
“I was excited to get back on our court and maintain the same level of intensity that we had against LSU,” Caine said. “I was finding [junior center] Lindsay [Taylor] a lot in the post. I love looking for her because she’s such a big target.”
The Gauchos improved to 19-4 overall and a Big West leading 11-1 conference. The win qualifies Santa Barbara for the Big West Tournament in Anaheim. Second-place Irvine (15-8, 8-4) nipped Northridge on the road Thursday 58-54 and stands a full game ahead of Long Beach State and Pacific. The 49ers dropped out of second place with a 66-65 loss to the Tigers in Stockton on Thursday.
“One of the things that this team has is composure,” French said. “This team is calm, and that is the greatest testament to our seniors. The key for us down the stretch will be emotion. We need to play our best and hardest basketball for 40 minutes.”
UCSB takes a break from competition this weekend before resuming play on Wednesday with a game against LBSU at The Pyramid. The 49ers have lost three straight Big West games.