At this point in the season, every game is crucial, and the seniors on the UCSB women’s basketball team were not about to leave Fullerton without a win. The Gauchos held off the Titans 79-78 Thursday night in Titan Gym.
Fullerton was unable to get a shot off as time expired thanks to the tough defense of senior guard Karena Bonds and senior forward Autumn Nichols. The two played defense on and off the ball to force freshman forward Toni Thomas to throw the ball away.
“I guess that’s what great seniors do,” Head Coach Mark French said. “Autumn has battled pain in her back and continues to battle pain [but] it’s just a joy to watch her out in the court.”
Nichols led the Gauchos with a double-double, scoring 14 and grabbing 10 rebounds. Sophomore forward/center Jenna Green led the team in scoring with 19 points and sophomore guard Ana Onaindia added 10 off the bench.
“I was playing through pain tonight,” Nichols said. “Every game it’s like, I only have so much time left here in this program and in this conference, and I’m just trying to do what I can do and not focus on what’s holding me back.”
Fullerton junior forward Charlee Underwood led all scorers with 21 points. Three of her teammates joined Underwood in scoring double figures. Thomas added 16 and 10 rebounds, senior forward/center Amber Pruitt added 14 and junior guard Andrea Adams added 13. The Titans shot 45.2 percent for the game. The offensive explosion comes on the heels of Santa Barbara’s stymieing defense against Long Beach State last Saturday that held it to just 43 points.
“We had one great defensive game and one great offensive game,” French said. “I’m hoping that in Riverside we’re going to get it all together.
The difference for Santa Barbara came from their bench. Onaindia scored 10 of the Gauchos’ 28 points off the bench, compared to Fullerton’s nine total from the bench.
The Gauchos continue their road trip when they play UC Riverside this Saturday. Riverside’s key post player, sophomore forward Kemie Nkele, will return for the Highlanders. She leads her team in scoring with 15 points per game, but was absent from the Jan. 2 contest in which the Gauchos dominated Riverside 73-48.
“I think it will be drastically different [from last time],” Nichols said. “She’s an awesome player and an attribute in their motion offense. Last time we played them they didn’t really have a post player but now they do.”
Saturday’s matchup in Riverside will be the final road game in the regular season for Santa Barbara. They currently sit on top of the Big West standings after the 49ers loss to Northridge last night.
“We just have to enjoy this tonight and then gear up,” French said. “We just need to get this last win on the road and get back to the Thunderdome.”
Santa Barbara will tip off against the Highlanders at 4 p.m. Saturday.