With a victory over Long Beach State on Wednesday night, the #19 UCSB women’s basketball team generated its eighth-straight Big West regular season title and 20-win season.
Santa Barbara (20-4 overall, 12-1 in the Big West) knocked off the 49ers for the 23rd consecutive time on its way to capturing the crown in an 85-70 win.
“It feels great to be Big West Champions again. Every year, it gets harder,” sophomore guard Mia Fisher said. “But in the long run, we realize that there are a lot of other goals that we still want to meet.”
With three more conference games remaining on the schedule, the Gauchos can turn their attention to what they consider the real litmus test of the season: the Big West Tournament, beginning March12 in Anaheim.
UCSB has cut the nets at each of the past six Big West Tournaments and hopes to bring out the ladder and scissors again. Other than a slight slip against Pacific on Jan. 18, the Gauchos have won all of their matches this season by a large margin. During Big West play, Santa Barbara has averaged a league-best 71.8 points per game and an astounding +13.7 scoring margin over its opponents. Including the 85-point bomb the Gauchos dropped on LBSU, Santa Barbara has garnered 80 or more points in five games.
Although the Gauchos hit the 80-point plateau 13 times in 2002, this year’s squad has built a reputation as one of the toughest defenses in UCSB Head Coach Mark French’s tenure. Santa Barbara owns the nations’ eighth-best field goal shooting defense, holding foes to a measly .358 percentage from the floor. Ranked in the top 20 in both national polls for most of the season, the Gauchos have stuck to their Sweet 16 goals from the very beginning.
“That’s what we’re aiming for,” Fisher said. “These next couple games, we’re going to have to keep pushing ourselves every night. A great team always comes out to play.”
In the first half of Wednesday evening’s affair, Long Beach State found the hot hand early. The 49ers (9-14, 5-8) built a 19-11 lead, but with 10:48 left junior swingman Lisa Willett buried a three-pointer to cut the home team’s lead to five. Sophomore guard Mia Fisher eventually gave Santa Barbara a 21-20 lead with a bucket at the 8:05 mark.
In the opening minutes of the second half, the score remained close. With 12:45 remaining, Santa Barbara clung to a slim three-point advantage. The Gauchos then forced the ball inside and went to work in the post. Junior center Lindsay Taylor, a candidate for the 2002-03 Big West Player of the Year, scored four straight points to spark the squad. Santa Barbara’s ship set sail to a 20-7 run that proved to be the game’s difference-maker.
Taylor notched a game-high 23 points.
Santa Barbara tips off against Irvine on Saturday night at 7 at the Bren Events Center. The Anteaters lost to the Gauchos in Santa Barbara on Jan. 30 by 77-58. KCSB 91.9 will cover the game at UCI. Oskar Garcia will call the game while Anthony Durham will provide color commentary duties.