The UCSB women’s basketball team’s streak of 25 consecutive home wins came close to crumbling Monday night in the Thunderdome, but junior forward Kristen Mann made sure the streak stayed intact.
Mann, who struggled through most of the game shooting just four of 14 from the field, made two crucial second-half three-pointers as the #18 Gauchos defeated #19 Utah 52-44 in the second round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
“It was frustrating missing shots I usually make,” Mann said. “But I kept telling myself it would come. She was lagging off of me and I decided to shoot and it went in.”
Utah (1-1) pulled to within one point of Santa Barbara at 31-30 with a little under 11 minutes to go as sophomores guard Shona Thorburn and forward Kim Smith began to emerge from their first-half shooting funk. But Mann converted on a three-point attempt on the next possession and the Gauchos never looked back.
“I thought Kristen took over there for two or three minutes and made a couple big buckets, and it went from a four-point game to an eight- or nine-point game,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “They were getting a little fatigued. We are a bit deeper than them and they had to travel. Playing at home makes a whole lot of difference.”
The Gauchos (2-0) opened up the first half on a 12-4 run as senior guard April McDivitt made two quick steals early in the game to get the UCSB offense running. But both offenses began to struggle as Utah slowly crept back into the game.
“Utah did a fabulous job. I can see why they were the best defensive team in the country last year,” French said.
Neither team shot well from the floor in the first half, with the Gauchos shooting 36.4 percent and Utah at 26.9 percent, and Santa Barbara hung on to a 22-16 lead at halftime.
Utah found success on the perimeter in the second half and cut the game close. Thorburn converted four of her eight three-point shots in the game as Santa Barbara saw their lead fade. But the Utes could only convert on five of their 28 three-point shots in the contest, and the Gauchos slowly started to pull away.
“We don’t have a lot of big kids, so the perimeter shot is a big part of our game,” Thorburn said. “We usually hit a few more. They hit shots, and we couldn’t string together a couple of points in a row, and that was the difference in the game.”
Senior forward Lisa Willet scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds. Junior guard Mia Fisher finished with 10 points and freshman forward Jenna Green added seven points and a team-high six rebounds.
Thorburn scored a game-high 14 points and Smith added 13 points and a game-high seven rebounds for Utah.
Santa Barbara advances to the semifinals of the WNIT on Thursday, when they travel to play Texas Tech. The Red Raiders knocked UCSB out of the NCAA Tournament last season with a second-round 72-68 win in Lubbock, and the Gauchos are looking for redemption.
“Knowing they were the next team we would meet up with gave us a little extra motivation,” Willett said. “We’re very, very excited to play them.”