In its final road battle of the season, Santa Barbara (17-8 overall, 14-2 in the Big West) avoided further blood on its record after escaping unscathed from a second-half barrage by the Highlanders (13-12 overall, 8-8 Big West) that saw a 15-point Gaucho lead cut to three.
The win over Riverside on Saturday, the Gauchos’ sixth straight, guarantees UCSB a bye in the first round of the Big West Tournament and maintains UCSB’s one-point lead over Long Beach in conference standings.
“It was a great competition; Riverside obviously played tremendously and, with Senior Night, had a lot of emotion going for them,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “Offensively, it was pretty fun; I don’t know about the defensive part of it.”
Freshman guard Jessica Wilson had an 18-point, eight-rebound career-high night in which she tied her previous career best of 14 points in the first seven minutes of play.
Wilson’s point total was a game-high for the Gauchos, who began the game without the aid of senior forward Kristen Mann, the team’s leading scorer. Mann continues to battle sickness as the Big West season lurches toward its conclusion.
“In high school, Jessica was probably a better shooter than a penetrator,” French said. “If she can stay healthy and keep [her recent] confidence on a roll, it will be a nice stretch for us coming home to the Thunderdome.”
Sophomore guard Erin O’Bryan drained all four of her three-point attempts in the first half and was then fouled as she let fly a half-court buzzer beater before halftime. She stepped to the line and put away every one of her three free throws.
O’Bryan went down early in the second half with an “apparent neck injury,” according to UCSB Media Relations. She did not re-enter the game, but she returned to the sidelines to watch the conclusion of the five-point victory.
“[O’Bryan is] a special kid, and basketball is very important to her; she prides herself on being really tough,” French said. “Our team is very emotional, and they’re very appreciative of those who come out and play even though they’re not feeling well and [despite] all the injuries that kids have had to battle through.”
Riverside’s comeback effort was lead by senior forward Agy Frankovits, who led all scorers with 22 points on the night. She had 15 in the second half.
The Gauchos’ balanced scoring effort was too much to overcome for the Highlanders. Mann came off the bench to put up 17 points and pull down 10 rebounds for her 12th double-double of the year and 27th of her career.
The Gauchos return home this week to face Irvine on Thursday at 7 p.m., followed by Long Beach on Saturday at 2 p.m.