Since Idaho joined the Big West in 1996, one team has dominated the conference. For the first time in eight years, the Vandals have a chance to steal that title away.
Idaho defeated Santa Barbara 84-80 on Saturday in Moscow, Idaho, ending a 13-gamelosing streak to the Gauchos and vaulting to second place in the conference.
Sophomore forward Emily Faurholt, the nation’s leading scorer, torched the Gauchos for 28 points and five rebounds. Junior guard Heather Thoelke added 17 points and converted on five of her six three-point attempts.
Santa Barbara shot a blistering 59 percent in the first half en route to a 43-34 halftime advantage. The Gauchos committed only five turnovers in the first half, led by freshman point guard Erin O’Bryan, and built a 32-18 advantage with five minutes to go in the first half.
Thoelke then came alive for the Vandals, nailing three baskets from behind the arc during the final three and a half minutes of the first half to pull within nine points of UCSB. Santa Barbara held Faurholt to only four first-half points.
UCSB couldn’t keep Faurholt at bay for long, as the transfer from Kennewick, Wash., came alive in the second half, scoring 24 points. There were 10 lead changes during a tense second half.
Senior center Lindsay Taylor put the Gauchos ahead 74-71 with a layup with 3:42 to play. Thoelke then tied the game with another three-point basket. Junior forward Kristen Mann and Faurholt then exchanged three-point baskets before Thoelke scored the game-winner with a three-pointer with a minute remaining in the game, putting Idaho ahead 79-76. The 1,390 fans then went into a frenzy as the Vandals went ahead by as much as six points during the final minute, cruising to their fourth straight win.
Idaho shot .521 for the game and an amazing six for 12 from three-point range in the second half to put away the Gauchos. Freshman guard Leilani Mitchell scored 15 points and had a game-high nine assists for the Vandals, and freshman guard Karly Felton added 10 points and had a team-high nine rebounds.
Santa Barbara shot 52.2 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line as four Gauchos scored in double digits. Taylor scored a season-high 26 points with six rebounds, and Mann added 17 points and four rebounds. O’Bryan, starting her second straight game in place of injured starting guard April McDivitt, scored a career-high 10 points and added three assists.
The most telling statistic in the game was the three-point averages for each team. The Vandals shot an outstanding 48 percent in the game from behind the arc, while the Gauchos could only convert on one of their five attempts in the second half and shot only 30 percent in the game.
Santa Barbara has a week off before hosting Cal Poly on Jan. 17. The Gauchos fall to third place in the conference behind first-place Pacific and the second-place Vandals.