Down 5-0 against 1-9 Irvine, the UCSB women’s basketball needed an answer. They found one in senior forward Lisa Willett.
Willett scored the Gauchos’ first eight points en route to a 20-point performance that included four three-pointers in 32 minutes of play, and Santa Barbara rebounded from the slow start to dominate Irvine 70-44 Monday night at the Thunderdome.
“Willie’s stroking the ball real well right now and I think the team is smart enough to know that she’s not just shooting the ball well but penetrating and playing well,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “We’ve been very fortunate over the years to have really tough seniors to step up when it was necessary.”
It took Santa Barbara seven minutes to find their rhythm as the Anteaters put a scare into the Santa Barbara faithful. Willett then converted on two three-pointers and another bucket to vault the Gauchos to an 8-7 lead.
“I was getting good passes and the ball was dropping tonight,” Willett said.
The Gauchos then began a full-court press that forced 12 Irvine turnovers in the first half. Junior forward Kristen Mann led the defense with three steals in the half as Irvine was overwhelmed by the overbearing UCSB defense.
“Obviously it was a tough game for them without their starting point guard,” French said. “They were very focused and we shouldn’t be surprised about that at all; the last time we lost at home was to Irvine. I thought it was a very gutsy performance from them in the first half.”
With 12:23 to go in the half, senior guard April McDivitt took a hard charge and fell to the floor. She lay on the ground for a few seconds as her teammates rushed to her aid. McDivitt received a concussion on the play and was held out for the rest of the game. There is no word on McDivitt’s status for Thursday’s game at Utah State.
Freshman guard Erin O’Bryan took advantage of her opportunity to play, scoring seven points with no turnovers in the first half. O’Bryan played 23 minutes and finished the game with no turnovers as the Gauchos only had three turnovers in the second half.
Santa Barbara (8-4, 2-0 in the Big West) finished the intense first half with a 35-25 lead on 46.2 percent shooting from field. Willett lead the way with eight points and junior guard Mia Fisher finished with six in the first half.
Senior forward Christina Callaway was a thorn in Santa Barbara’s side throughout the first half, hauling in six rebounds and scoring six points.
Willett scored the first two baskets of the second half as Santa Barbara began to run away with the game. UCSB began the half on a 15-4 run as the Anteaters had no answer for Santa Barbara’s overwhelming talent and deep bench.
Eight Gauchos scored points in the game as they ran away with the game in the second half, outscoring UCI 35-19 in the half.
Fisher finished with 12 points and three assists, and four Gauchos finished with seven points. Junior forward Brandy Richardson finished with nine rebounds. Willett alluded to Richardson receiving some encouragement from former Gaucho Debby Caine before the game, possibly prompting Richardson’s dominating performance on the glass.
“I don’t know what prompted that,” French said jokingly. “You’d have to ask one of the veteran players. It was great to see Brandy all over the glass.”
Coach French announced before the game that guard Roshawn Perkins has left the team due to a chronic back injury.
UCSB travels to Logan, Utah, on Thursday to play Utah State. This season is the Aggies’ first in the Big West since they discontinued their women’s basketball program in 1987.