With the shot clock and game clock nearly synchronized in the final half and UCSB trailing Michigan by three points last Friday, the Thunderdome crowd of nearly 2,000 was on the edge of its seat.
The Gauchos needed to force a turnover and complete a three-point play to send the game into overtime, but Michigan forward Tabitha Pool buried a three pointer with 21 seconds remaining, silencing the Thunderdome and giving the Wolverines a 57-51 victory in the Gauchos’ home opener Friday night.
“We were trying to run the clock down on our last possession, but I just got an open look and it went in,” Pool said.
Michigan trailed for much of the second half, but went on a 12-4 run over the final four minutes to break the Gauchos’ streak of 12 straight victories at home. The Wolverines frontcourt of Pool and Ta’Shia Walker combined for 41 of Michigan’s 57 points on 16-22 shooting.
The Gauchos were led by All-Big West senior forward Kristen Mann, who scored 14 points and pulled down eight rebounds but was held to just a 5-15 shooting average. The Gaucho perimeter players struggled to open up the floor for her, shooting only 3 of 19 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Michigan was able to shoot 45 percent from the field.
“Down the stretch, I just didn’t think we could defend well,” Gaucho Head Coach Mark French said. “At the big moment, they found the player who needed her hands on the ball, and she hit a big shot. We’re supposed to dictate what goes on defensively, and we were unable to do that tonight.”
Still, other than the final four minutes, UCSB looked like the better team for much of the game. The Gauchos won the rebounding battle 37-33, and Mann’s quick drives to the basket opened up shots for the rest of the team.
Sophomore center Jenna Green came off the bench to score 10 points on 5-6 shooting. Despite being sidelined for much of the preceding week with the flu, Green looked overpowering at times, pulling down five rebounds, two of them offensive, and blocking two shots in 25 minutes.
The Gauchos’ biggest problem was their inability to close out halves. Leading 24-20 with two minutes left in the first half, the Gaucho defense gave up six straight points to Walker to give the Wolverines the halftime lead. In the second half, Michigan’s 12-4 run over the game’s final four minutes is what earned them the victory.
“Our defense was definitely not the best, we need to step it up a notch,” Mann said. “I thought we did okay on the boards, but turnovers towards the end of the game killed us.”
The Gauchos return to action this Sunday when they host visiting Oregon State at 1 p.m.