Just one shot from the taste of something sweet, the #17 UCSB women’s basketball team’s historic run through the 2002-03 season came to a bittersweet end.
Santa Barbara (27-5 overall), seeded seventh in the Midwest region, dropped a nail-biter in Lubbock, Texas 72-68 to #2 seed Texas Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 25.
The Gauchos advanced to the Round of 32 just two days earlier after a comfortable 71-62 victory over #10 seed Xavier, but could not convert in the closing second against Texas Tech to advance to what could have been UCSB’s first-ever trip to the Sweet 16. Santa Barbara headed into the tournament with great expectations after beating up on its opponents in the Big West Tournament.
After blowing past CSUN and Irvine, the Gauchos dismantled Pacific 68-50 on March 15 to win the Big West Tournament and secure a big into the Big Dance.
The Lady Raiders, behind the home-court advantage of 11,080 red and black faithful, opened up the game with a shooting frenzy to build a commanding 23-8 lead with 11:08 to play in the first half. The Gauchos erased the deficit in a hurry to pull within six points at the 6:21 mark and went into the locker room showing signs of life and poised for a second-half comeback.
UCSB Head Coach Mark French brought his troops to play opening minutes of the second half. Santa Barbara pulled within one point at the 15:51 mark after sophomore guard Mia Fisher scored in fast break transition. Senior guard Jess Hansen, playing in her final game for UCSB, drilled a clutch three-point basket with 12:49 to play to tie the game 50-50.
The Gauchos, poised with the momentum for an upset, ran into trouble when Hansen picked up two controversial fouls late, sending the Gauchos’ toughest competitor to the bench. Losing Hansen, possibly Santa Barbara’s most prolific clutch shooter ever, didn’t stop the Gauchos. Junior center Lindsay Taylor, the 2003 Big West Player of the Year, notched six straight points to give her squad a 61-59 advantage with 5:56 left.
Texas Tech (28-5) stormed back over the next minute and a half for a 5-0 run and stepped it up down the stretch as senior All-American candidate Plenette Pierson drove to the basket and hit a running layup with 27 seconds remaining.
Senior guard Debby Caine pushed the ball down the court and found sophomore swingman Kristen Mann, who swished a three-pointer to pull within one at 69-68 with 15 seconds. Sophomore forward Brandy Richardson then intentionally fouled Pierson, who sunk both shots from the charity stripe to give the Lady Raiders a three-point lead with 13 seconds left.
On the other end of the court, Mann found another good look but could not tie the game as her shot hit iron and Texas Tech escaped after an additional free throw sealed the outcome.