The Gauchos (8-7, 5-1 Big West) hit another bright spot on their long and winding road through the 2005 season last night as they defeated Northridge (7-7, 3-4 Big West) 86-74 with 57 percent shooting in a highly offensive shootout.
Senior forward Kristen Mann outdid herself as she tallied a career-high 32 points to lead all scorers in a balanced Gaucho scoring effort that helped UCSB leave the Matadome with a ‘W’ to bring their overall record above .500 for the first time since the season opener.
“We just remembered last year when we almost lost [here in the Matadome], and that was enough motivation to come out strong tonight,” Mann said.
It has been a 14-game journey for the Gauchos to get back to a winning percentage in their overall record, and they did it Thursday night without the help of senior guard Mia Fisher.
Team trainers — not Head Coach Mark French — made the final call to bench Fisher due to an ankle injury. Reportedly, the team didn’t know about the decision until they arrived in Northridge.
“If this was a Big West tournament game, [Fisher] would have absolutely played, but this is no time of the year to be taking chances with anybody,” French said. “Our training staff always has the final say, which is good because, if it were up to me, she probably would have played 40 minutes and swept the floor at halftime.”
The win highlighted the Gauchos’ offensive abilities, but did not exemplify a stellar performance on the defensive side of the court.
The Matadors were able to pierce UCSB’s pressure and shoot 63 percent from the floor in the first half, though even a shooting percentage that high wouldn’t give them the lead at the end of the half.
Santa Barbara focused much of their defensive effort on guarding forward Ofa Tulikihihifo, sticking senior forward Brandy Richardson with the task of guarding her for most of the game.
Brandy was able to sneak away from her defensive post long enough to tally 14 points and nine rebounds for the game, while Tulikihihifo had 23 points.
“Brandy had a tough time tonight playing against Ofa, [but she’s] used to doing [that],” French said.
Much to the Gauchos’ dismay, however, sophomore guard Krisztina Fuleki knocked down her career-high with 27 points on 12 of 15 shootings.
“I’m a little disappointed that #5, Fuleki, went on for a career night,” French said.
Kristen Mann’s single game performance is impressive, but does not by itself define her career in any way, shape or form. Prior to last night’s game, Mann was already seventh in the country in scoring and had tallied 20 double-doubles.
Still, Mann wasn’t entirely pleased with her own effort on the night.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable [missing five free throws], especially for me,” Mann said. “I’m a mental case — it’s all in my head.”
Sophomore guard Erin O’Bryan left the game in the second half with an ankle injury, adding to the Gauchos’ extensive injury list.
“We’d complain about [our injuries] if we could, but we’re in so much better shape than the male Gauchos, there’s no complaining allowed,” French said.
The win continues the Matadors’ four-game losing streak. For Santa Barbara, the road trip continues Saturday when the Gauchos take on Pacific at 7 p.m. in Stockton.
“We just need to get everybody back — kind of in the rhythm, get a little flow going and everyone figure out what their roles are,” French said. “And if we can stay healthy for the next three or four weeks, it would really help us out.”