If you have a weak heart, it might not be a good time for you to be a Gaucho basketball fan. For the second game in a row, Santa Barbara (10-8 overall, 5-2 in the Big West) stole a narrow victory on the road. The latest victim: Pacific, who suffered a 64-62 defeat at the hands of the Gauchos.
The Tigers (5-14, 2-5 Big West) were the second team in as many games to lose by less than three points to Santa Barbara – the Gauchos posted a 54-51 victory over Northridge on Thursday night. These all-too-close games in conference play are a new occurrence that longtime Gaucho fans used to domination might not be accustomed to seeing.
“I think that we’re not playing as well as in past years,” Head Coach Mark French said. “I think that’s part of it, and I also think part of it was that Pacific was on a real emotional high. Their season hadn’t been going too well and they just came off a big win against Cal Poly. I think they were feeling – although not to the same degree – the way we were after we beat UCLA.”
Sophomore guard Kelsey Lavender put the Tigers on top 62-61 with back-to-back three pointers to tally the last of her game-high 19 points with just 1:35 to play. Neither team made a field goal from that point on, while Santa Barbara earned a couple of trips to the free-throw line to seal the deal. First, a pair from freshman guard Whitney Warren after she pulled down an offensive rebound and then one from senior guard Karena Bonds after she gathered up a missed three-pointer from Lavender.
“It was the first time as a Gaucho that [Warren had] been in a game-winning, game-changing position like that,” French said. “I was really relieved to see her make her two free throws.”
With 11 seconds left, Pacific ran a play to get Lavender open for a chance to tie, but the shot rimmed in and out and the Gauchos left with a win.
“When a shot goes up like that you don’t have much time to think about anything except ‘I hope it doesn’t go in,'” French said. “And it didn’t, so it all worked out.”
In the second game back since injuring her ankle, Bonds shined, scoring a career-high 18 points while shooting 3-4 from three-point land. Also standing out for Santa Barbara was the always-consistent Jenna Green. Her 12-point performance in the Spanos Center marks the 16th time in 18 games that Green has reached double figures. She leads the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game.
“We’re spoiled by [Green],” French said. “We’re not surprised by her though; we’ve always known she’s had a lot of potential to be one of the premiere players.”
Senior forward Carolina Ruiz’s 17 points and 15 boards helped the Tigers out-rebound the Gauchos 40-35, but it wasn’t enough to stop Bonds, Green and the rest of the Gauchos from taking their second straight road game.
“Ruiz has improved her game a lot,” French said. “She used to be just an athlete, lots of energy and a good jumper. But she’s really improved her ball handling and her skills a lot since last season.”
Santa Barbara continues their road trip next weekend when they head to San Louis Obispo to face Cal Poly. The Gauchos will be out for revenge after Cal Poly (10-7 overall, 5-2 Big West) handed them their only Big West home loss of the season Jan. 21 in the Thunderdome.