UCSB (5-6 overall, 3-1 in the Big West) dropped its first league game of the year Saturday afternoon to the University of Idaho (7-5, 2-1 Big West), leaving just one question: What are they putting in the potatoes?
Idaho sophomore point guard Leilani Mitchell drained 20 of 20 free throws en route to a 33-point performance that would help end the Gauchos’ 17-win streak in league and drop UCSB’s record to 5-6 for the first time since the 1993-94 season.
“I doubt it was nerves,” Head Coach Mark French said. “I think I underestimated them.”
Idaho remains the lone team in the Big West to steal a win off of Santa Barbara in the past two years, but this year the Gauchos won’t have home court advantage when they attempt their revenge next month.
“Our game plan was to go high-low and try to take advantage of their lack of size,” French said. “Obviously, that is something we need to work at.”
The loss to Idaho, coupled with Long Beach State’s victory over Northridge on Saturday, blows the contest for a Big West title wide open; only four games into league play, no team remains undefeated.
“I am hopeful that we can all enjoy the competition,” French said. “[Last year] we got better after Idaho beat us.”
Saturday’s contest exhibited the return of Santa Barbara senior forwards Kristen Mann, Brandy Richardson and sophomore guard Erin O’Bryan, who were suspended for one game.
Mann didn’t waste any time reclaiming her position as the Gauchos’ deadliest scoring threat, posting 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Richardson returned to lead her team with 12 rebounds.
“[Mann] puts up one good fight; she’s amazing,” Idaho junior forward Emily Faurholt said. “You just have to be there when she shoots it and pray that she misses, because she is probably the most talented person I will ever play against.”
Mia Fisher, who has been a dependable scoring threat thus far this season, added 15 points for UCSB in the loss and is averaging 18.5 points per game in Big West play.
There were two marquee matchups of the night. The first was a clash of scoring titans Faurholt and Mann. Mann won the scoring contest (25 points compared to Faurholt’s 18), but Faurholt, the Big West’s leading scorer, walked away with the “W.”
“On a game-long basis, I think they had a very, very good defensive game plan,” French said. “They were obviously going to swarm Kristen in the low post whenever she touched the ball, and we weren’t able to muster anybody else playing down low and get much out of it.”
The second key matchup was Idaho’s 5’5″ Mitchell versus all the tall girls UCSB could throw at her. As the clock ticked below five minutes, Santa Barbara was forced to foul to stop the clock. And with Mitchell’s speed, the Gauchos could not keep the ball out of her hands as she put away 10 of 10 free throws in the final minutes.
“Just step up and make them pay, that’s what our coaches say,” Mitchell said. “You know, make them pay for fouling us. That’s all I tried to do tonight.”
UCSB will take on Mississippi State (11-2) today on the road at 5 p.m. Central Standard Time in a nonconference match.