It was dirty, ugly and tough, but the UCSB women’s basketball team came out clean last night when it scraped out a victory against Cal State Northridge on the road 54-51.

Head Coach Mark French and the rest of the Gauchos (9-8 overall, 4-2 in the Big West) have always been given fits in the Matadome, and last night’s victory was no exception. The Matadors’ (5-13 overall, 2-4 Big West) full-court pressure caused Santa Barbara to turn the ball over 19 times, and held it to 33 percent shooting in the game.

“First and foremost, I hate this gym,” French said. “I get the heebie -jeebies just coming into this gym.”

Though the Matadors brought energy on the defensive end, Santa Barbara brought more. The defense shined in a gritty and energetic matchup. The Gauchos stymied Northridge and held them to 26.7 percent shooting on the night.

“Well, we were really focused on getting back to basics, and what does that mean? For us it’s always been defense and rebounding,” French said. “Had we not made some poor decisions with fouls, particularly down the stretch in the second half, I would have been very happy with our defense.”

Offensively, Santa Barbara was led by sophomore forward/center Jenna Green who notched 17 points, but perhaps the biggest story of the night was the return of senior forward Autumn Nichols to the lineup. Nichols missed the last two games while she recovered from being hit by a car. She logged 12 minutes and pulled down six boards.

“I probably shouldn’t have played her as much as I did,” French said. “She wanted to be in there; she said she felt good, but she was probably lying through her teeth.”

Also returning from injury was senior guard Karena Bonds. She also pulled down six boards while adding four points. More importantly, though, the return of the two seniors provided much needed leadership for the young Gauchos.

Junior forward Jazelle Burries led all players with 15 rebounds for Northridge, and junior guards LaJoyce King and Jamie McCaa poured in 12 points each.

“We couldn’t seem to figure out the fact that Burries was left-handed,” French said. “She kept blowing by us to get fouls and kick outs. I challenged the team to hold them under fifty, and I wasn’t sure if that was going to work towards the end.” With less than a minute remaining, Northridge had a chance to tie the game. King drove the lane, but was pressured defensively and missed a layup. UCSB Sophomore guard Jessica Wilson was there to corral one of her team-high seven rebounds and dribbled away before she was fouled. Her free throws put the game out of reach for the Matadors.

Wilson created havoc all night for Northridge, dropping in 15 points and making a career-high seven steals to go along with her four tie-ups and seven rebounds. Her energetic play was exactly what the Gauchos needed to stay in the gritty contest.

“Well you know Jessica Wilson is a young player; she’s practically a walking definition of a young player,” French said. “Some games she’s hardly there, and other games it looks like she’s going to score … it looks like she’s going to be Kobe-like.”

Santa Barbara hopes to continue their defensive intensity and improve on their shooting when they head up to French’s old stomping grounds at Pacific (5-13 overall, 2-4 Big West) tomorrow. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Spanos Center in Stockton, Calif.