Despite a first-half stampede by the Mustangs (9-11 overall, 3-9 in the Big West), the Gauchos (13-8 overall, 10-2 Big West) wrangled their central coast rival into submission with a 78-54 decision in their second straight win coming out a halftime deficit.
The up-tempo, full-court press put into action by Cal Poly was enough to escape the first half with a four-point lead, but not quite enough to hold back the home team as UCSB outscored the Mustangs by 30 points in the second half.
“[At halftime] we didn’t talk about X’s and O’s; we made no adjustments technically at all,” Head Coach Mark French said. “We talked about effort, and we congratulated our younger players who came in and turned things around.”
Once down by eight points in the first half and struggling to beat the press as they surrendered 13 first-half turnovers, the Gauchos received an emotional boost from their bench who helped bring them back into the game.
Freshman guards Sha’Rae Gibbons and Jessica Wilson, freshman center Kat Suderman and sophomore guard Erin O’Bryan came off the bench to give the Gauchos a combined 67 minutes of relief and 31 points.
“[When those substitutions were made, we were down by five or six. Then, all of a sudden, we were up by four of five,” French said. “We suggested that maybe everyone could put that kind of effort in the second half.”
O’Bryan played the most off the bench, leading all scorers with a career-high 15 points in 21 minutes.
“I just learned a second ago that I had my career high; that just came off my energy. We hear everyday that it starts with defense and I felt like I concentrated mostly on defense and just made sure [that] I was there for my teammates,” O’Bryan said. “[My teammates] were there for me on the offensive end and I found myself open, which was surprising.” Although she didn’t practice Wednesday due to a head cold, senior forward Kristen Mann wasn’t about to let illness keep her out of the showdown with Cal Poly, still managing to give her team 30 minutes on the court, leading all rebounders with 12 boards.
For the first time this season, Mann was unable to break double digits in scoring, but she wouldn’t need to. A balanced Gaucho attack got the job done with a 50-point, second-half barrage, compiling the most points scored in a half all season for Santa Barbara.
“I think that’s probably what we’ve all come to expect from Kristen; sometimes she plays really well [when she’s sick],” French said. “If you remember Utah State last year, she was really sick and played a phenomenal game out there, [and] she certainly played well [tonight] in the second half.”