The Gauchos (16-8 overall, 13-2 in the Big West) showed last night why they’ve been the Lords of the Hoop in the Big West Conference for the past 10 years by destroying Fullerton (5-19 overall, 3-12 in the Big West) 83-40 with the help of its Two Towers, junior forward Autumn Nichols and senior forward Kristen Mann.
Both Nichols and Mann stand at 6’2″ and recorded 25 points last night to lead all scorers in Titan Gym. Mann also brought down 12 rebounds for her 11th double-double of the season and 26th of her career. Nichols shot nine of 11 from the field to post a career-high.
“[Kristen and I] both play [the same positions] for this team, so we know the spots where each other are going to,” Nichols said. “Kristen moves really well; when there’s player movement, there’s ball movement, and I’m going to give [Kristen] the ball when she’s moving.”
Making her 25-point performance all the more impressive is the fact that Mann missed the last couple of practice days prior to the Fullerton game due to illness.
“I’m not sure if it’s just further proof that practice doesn’t help players get any better,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “Kristen seems to have a real tradition in doing that: when she isn’t feeling well, she has some big games; she was deadly sick at Utah State last year and had a great game.”
The 43-point triumph marks the Gauchos’ biggest victory margin of the year — their last three contests embody the biggest victory margins in any three games this season — and keeps them in the driver’s seat with sole possession of first place in the Big West.
The Titans never put up much of a fight on their home court, shooting 21.5 percent from the field and a mere 15 percent from beyond the arc, while allowing the Gauchos to shoot 51 percent on the game, including 36 percent from three-point range.
“After the first four or five minutes of the game, we did a better job not fouling them, and Fullerton just shot the ball very, very poorly tonight,” French said. “I’m not sure if that had much to do with our defense; they just had one of those nights when the ball wasn’t falling for them.”
Fullerton, a dangerously inconsistent team this season, gave UCSB a reason to worry when it defeated Idaho on the Vandals’ home court last Thursday 68-65 before falling to Utah State later that week.
“We did a reasonably good job stopping them from penetrating to the basket, and I liked our energy in the second half; we came out right away in the first five minutes and kind of put the game away,” French said. “It was just a matter of protecting the lead down the stretch.”
Next on the docket for Santa Barbara is a Saturday night showdown at Riverside (12-11 overall, 7-7 Big West), which will be the Gauchos’ final road game of the regular season.
“[Riverside] really gave us a scrap on our home court and we have a lot of respect for them; I was glad we were able to get through tonight fairly well-rested,” French said. “They play much more controlled, they have a motion offense, and our big kids are going to have to get out on the perimeter and defend.”