It was a tale of two halves in Starkville, Miss. last night, as the Gauchos fell at the hands of the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs 69-62 in a nonconference bout.
Down by 21 points at halftime, Santa Barbara (5-7, 3-1 Big West) returned from the locker room to give the Bulldogs a reason to sweat. The Gauchos cut the lead to seven with just under a minute to play, but were unable to rob the home team of a little revenge as Mississippi (12-2, 1-0 SEC) avenged their loss in the Thunderdome last year.
“We didn’t give up, and I think there was a danger of that going on – particularly here at home with a team that was shooting so well,” Head Coach Mark French said.
After having their conference record tainted by Idaho and their 5’5″ free throw wonder Leilani Mitchell over the weekend, the Gauchos staggered onto the court and came out flat, posting only 20 first-half points.
Unfortunately for the Gauchos, they got to play Mississippi at the tail end of their 11-game win streak. By this mark, they are the country’s third hottest team, behind only Duke and Baylor.
“You have to give Mississippi State a ton of credit; it’s obvious why they are winning all of their basketball games,” French said. “Last year, I thought they were a great, penetrating, flashy team, so our game plan tonight was to try and force them to shoot the ball from the perimeter; they looked like they did that as well as anything else.”
To say the least, the Bulldogs are in good company, which means bad company for Santa Barbara, who was pummeled by their host early and often.
“[Mississippi’s shooting] took the wind out of our sails. We came off a loss at home and our confidence was down a little bit,” French said. “I’m sure this will be a real growing opportunity for [us].”
Senior forward Kristen Mann shot 34 percent from the field in the face of double- and triple-teams, and managed to lead all scorers in the game with 19 points alongside 12 rebounds. Monday’s performance marks Kristen Mann’s fourth-straight double-double.
Senior guard Mia Fisher followed close behind with 18 points and seven rebounds, but it was not enough to topple the 41-point first-half scoring barrage by Mississippi State.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well from three-point range, but I thought we did better attacking the double- and triple-teams tonight,” French said. “We got different touches from different people, and Kate [Bauman] and Autumn [Nichols] were able to score.”
Both schools in the contest brought with them the leading scorers (in points per game) of their respective conferences. UCSB had Mann (21.2 ppg before Monday), while Mississippi had senior guard Tan White (21.6 ppg before Monday).
White did not match her season average of 21.6 points per game, but still tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds, and was complimented by the Bulldogs’ Ebonie Ferguson and Mamie McKinney, who had and tied career marks with 13 and 16 points, respectively.
“Hopefully we won’t [continue to] run into people that are lighting it up like Mississippi State was tonight,” French said. “That’s very disheartening.”
French also expressed a need for variety in the Gaucho offense after Mann and Fisher combined for 60 percent of UCSB’s scoring.
“To have our young players step in and take some of that load is going to be good for us on down the road,” French said. “And we need to shoot better.