The UCSB women’s basketball team couldn’t have dreamt of a better start to Saturday’s game against the then conference-leading University of the Pacific.
For the first time all season, the Gauchos played to their potential, disposing of the Tigers 73-48 in front of 2,411 fans at the Thunderdome on Saturday. Senior center Lindsay Taylor led the way with a game-high 19 points as four Gauchos scored double digits.
“We played so well in the first five to 10 minutes that it just deflated them,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “Our crowd was awesome tonight. It was like our crowd was trying as hard as we were. During the pre-game announcements, they were loud and were trying to pump us up. I think a great crowd and a tough defense was too much for them, but it should be a different story [when we play] at Pacific.”
Junior forward Kristen Mann started an 11-0 run to begin the game with a three-pointer on Santa Barbara’s first possession, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Two baskets by junior guard Mia Fisher forced Pacific Head Coach Craig Jackson to call a timeout only a minute into the game.
The Tigers couldn’t match the Gauchos’ intensity as Taylor and senior guard April McDivitt each made a basket before senior forward Andrea Nederostek finally put the Tigers on the board five minutes into the game. During the five-minute frenzy, the Gauchos forced four turnovers.
“This was retro Gaucho defense, reminiscent of two or three years ago,” French said. “That first half, we played very aggressive and they had very little. I was very pleased with our defensive effort tonight. It was the best we’ve had in a long time.”
Following the Tigers’ first basket, Santa Barbara responded with a 21-8 run, with six Gauchos scoring points while forcing nine Pacific turnovers.
“We dug a hole early, kind of succumbed to their defense,” Jackson said. “It’s not any more disappointing than a two-point loss. A loss is a loss. You’re at somebody else’s court and you have to win conference games at home. They’re talented at times on tape and they are very, very good. I thought the effort was disappointing.”
Playing without all-conference forward Gillian d’Hondt because of an earlier concussion, the Tigers were overmatched inside and couldn’t find an offensive groove throughout the first half. Nederostek said the Tigers are continuing to learn how to play without their star center.
“I think it’s something we’re learning to do,” d’Hondt said. “We’ve played a few games now without her and people need to step up.”
Taylor and Mann dominated the first half as Santa Barbara entered halftime with a 34-16 lead. Taylor scored 12 points and made all six of her first-half free throws. Mann grabbed seven rebounds and scored five points while overbearing the Tigers on the defensive end.
Santa Barbara held Pacific to 29.2 percent from the field while shooting 46.4 percent. Seven Gauchos scored points in the first half as the Santa Barbara frontcourt outscored the Tigers 19-6 in the first half.
“We played really good defense and carried throughout the game. We had a good offensive plan and stuck with it throughout the night,” Taylor said.
Behind two McDivitt three-pointers, Santa Barbara stayed hot entering the second half. The Gauchos ran to a 46-22 lead before the Tigers could mount any kind of offensive attack. Pacific improved on its dismal first-half field goal percentage, shooting 44 percent from the field.
“I’m not very pleased that we were close in the first half. There isn’t a moral victory in basketball,” Jackson said. “We’re just trying to get better. You don’t win the Big West Conference or the Big West Championship in seven games in the conference. It’s a long season, and the team that wins the championship continues to get better.”
But the Tigers couldn’t stop the Gauchos’ offensive machine as UCSB shot 47.1 percent in the second half.
Nine players scored points for Santa Barbara as French was able to empty his bench while maintaining leads as high as 34 points.
With the win over Pacific coupled with Idaho’s loss to Fullerton earlier in the night, the Gauchos reclaimed sole possession of first place in the conference. After their disappointing performance against Cal State Northridge on Thursday night, the Gauchos responded with one of their biggest wins of the season.
“[Junior forward] Autumn [Nichols] had some funky cheers for us that got us really fired up and she was a big help. She contributed big time for us tonight,” Mann said.
The UCSB starters outscored the Pacific starters 59-24 while holding the Tigers to only one scorer in double digits. Santa Barbara forced 23 turnovers and held Pacific to a 36.7 shooting percentage for the game.
Nederostek led the way for Pacific, finishing with 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds in 29 minutes played. Senior guard Corinne Wong finished with nine points and a team-high three assists, while freshman forward Jessica Brantley and freshman guard Brittney Crossland each added eight points.
“I think we’re not particularly deep right now,” Jackson said, “but I think any time somebody gets up on us, we have a difficult time responding back. The games we have won right now are the ones that we have been up and held on.”
Santa Barbara shot a blistering 46.7 percent from the field while out-rebounding the Tigers 35-29. The Gauchos also converted 26 of 29 free throw attempts for an 89.7 percentage.
“At the beginning of the year, we weren’t shooting [our free throws] very well and I was fairly confident we would get it back together,” French said. “I think, throughout the course of the year, we’ll be a good free throw shooting team.”
Mann finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. McDivitt added 14 points and four assists while junior guard Mia Fisher finished with 10.
“They are a very good team when they are playing well,” French said. “Things have been really tough for us and we haven’t been having a lot of fun. I feel great watching them stick with it and go through tough practices and play like that. It’s a good lesson to learn. You can go through tough times.”
UCSB travels to Riverside on Saturday to face the Highlanders at 7 p.m.
“We can all predict what Riverside and Fullerton are going to be like. They are going to be just like Northridge,” French said. “Maybe not stylewise, but energywise, and we’re going to have to match that and take it on the road now.”