With the UCSB women’s basketball team stumbling during Winter Break, Long Beach State hoped to catch the Gauchos off-guard and steal a win in the Big West Conference opener on Saturday. Santa Barbara wasn’t buying it.
Displaying the type of dominance normally seen from the SB women’s basketball team during its eight-year run atop the Big West Conference, the Gauchos defeated the 49ers 78-67.
“I was not particularly excited with the overall play,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “We shot the ball well. It was one of the only real positives of the night. Our perimeter game stepped up, [senior guard] April McDivitt and [senior forward] Lisa Willett and everybody else continue to shoot well, and we certainly needed it tonight. We hit big shots, which halted their runs, which at home it’s easier to do that, but it will be interesting to see if we can do the same thing on the road.”
Five Gauchos scored in double digits, including senior center Lindsay Taylor, who finished with a team-high 15 points and four rebounds in 26 minutes of action. Junior forward Kristen Mann added 10 points and 11 rebounds for her third double-double of the season.
“Rebounding has always been a focal point for me and everybody in general,” Mann said. “We’re trying to reach our goals every game.”
“Santa Barbara’s an excellent program and they play very well at home,” Long Beach State Head Coach Mary Hegarty said. “I think they shot very well, and it took a while for us to get our feet under us and they just don’t let up, so any mistake we made they took advantage of. They are a very good team and we would have had to play extremely well to beat them.”
Behind six steals from McDivitt, the Gauchos raced to a 19-4 lead to begin the game. During an eight-minute run, Willett led the way with six points on two three-pointers. The 49ers looked lost, as McDivitt’s constant defensive pressure led to seven turnovers during the run.
“A lot of the time when you get the steal, it’s because two of your other teammates were in the right place and you’re the lucky one to get the steal.” McDivitt said.
Behind six first-half points from 6’6″ sophomore center Petra Glaser, Long Beach State woke from their coma to put pressure on the Gauchos as the half came to a close. A layup by sophomore forward Jayme Connors with 3:16 to play in the half pulled the 49ers to within 11 points, but Long Beach State would get no closer as the Gauchos went on a 10-4 run to close the half.
Long Beach senior forward Jennifer Baker had seven rebounds in the first half, as LBSU out-rebounded UCSB 18-13 in the first half. McDivitt led the Gauchos with 12 points and six steals, as Santa Barbara shot a blistering 61 percent on 17-of-28 shooting in the first half. McDivitt also caught fire from behind the arc, making three of her four three-point attempts as UCSB shot 83.3 percent from the three-point line during the first half.
The Gauchos continued to dominate once the second half began, taking leads as high as 21 points at 52-31 with 16 minutes to play in the game. Long Beach State looked outmatched as Taylor and Mann began to score at will inside the paint.
But the 49ers began to heat up and pulled to within 11 points at 72-61 with 2:09 to play on an 11-1 run. Senior forward Lauren Bull and sophomore guard Crystal McCutcheon each had three-pointers during the run, as Long Beach State threatened to make the game interesting.
“I knew it was a big game and it would have been a big win, but we’re progressing,” McCutcheon said. “We’re all looking forward to seeing [UCSB] again in March. It’ll be a lot different.”
But the Gauchos soon regained control after junior guard Mia Fisher and junior forward Brandy Richardson each made layups to put Santa Barbara ahead 76-61 with 1:29 to play.
“We still have a way to go, but I’m happy for the team because they set such high standards,” Fisher said. “We’re always striving to get better to reach such extremely high goals.”
Two more three-pointers by McCutcheon and Bull to close out the game made the game look closer than it was, as Long Beach State lost to Santa Barbara for the 24th consecutive time. The 49ers have not beaten Santa Barbara since a 63-58 win at the Pyramid during the 1993-94 season.
McCutcheon finished with a game-high 18 points, 14 of which occurred in the second half, and shot seven of 13 from the field, including two of four from the three-point range.
“Crystal got her cast off yesterday,” Hegarty said. “She’d been in a cast for a couple of weeks and went from not playing at all to starting and playing a lot. I think she did a great job. I think it took her a little while to get herself back into that mentality. But when you have your hand in a cast for two weeks, there is going to be a little bit of an adjustment period and unfortunately it was against the best team in the conference.”
Glaser and Bull each had 14 points, and Baker finished with a team-high 11 rebounds, tied for the game-high with Mann. Long Beach State shot 53 percent from the floor in the second half and 45.9 percent for the game. LBSU out-rebounded Santa Barbara 33-31 in the game. The 49ers also were able to force 20 turnovers from the Gauchos.
“I wasn’t particularly enthralled with our defense or rebounding, nor our execution,” French said. “Twenty turnovers is a little old-school for us. We’ve been a little better than that this year.”
The Gauchos shot 55 percent for the game and 66.7 percent from behind the arc. McDivitt finished with 14 points and five assists, and Fisher added 13 points. Willett added 12 points and made a career-high four three-pointers.
“We had 20 assists tonight, and I always look at that because, if we have a lot of assists, we’re moving the ball and people are in the right spot at the right time,” McDivitt said. “It helped that we shot the ball well tonight and hopefully we can build on that.”
The Gauchos can build on that tonight, as they host Irvine at 7 at the Thunderdome .
The Anteaters come into the game with a 1-8 record and are 0-1 in the Big West Conference after losing 60-56 on Saturday night at Cal Poly. Junior guard Courtney Ferguson scored a game-high 17 points for UCI, as the Anteaters shot just 31 percent from the field for the game.
Irvine’s only win of the season came at Sacramento State on Dec. 20. Senior forward Christina Calloway grabbed 13 rebounds and finished with 15 points in Irvine’s 55-41 win. Calloway notched her third double-double of the season.
Calloway is the Anteaters’ leading scorer, averaging 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Senior guard Kristen Green is averaging 12 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. The Anteaters have shot only .351 from the field so far this season, and only two of their losses have been within 10 points.