March Madness has begun for Santa Barbara. The Gauchos (14-12 overall, 9-4 in the Big West) handed Pacific a 76-49 defeat Thursday night in the Thunderdome.

Santa Barbara came out looking to shoot despite struggling from the floor in recent games. They only connected on 36.5 percent of their 63 field goal attempts, but 18 offensive rebounds and 16 steals kept the Gauchos in control long enough to beat Pacific (6-20 overall, 3-10 Big West) by their biggest victory margin of the season.

“We’re not shooting the ball well,” Head Coach Mark French said. “But we’re not going to go out and be afraid to shoot the ball, let’s shoot the basketball and go get it off the offensive boards.”

The Tigers and the Gauchos appeared evenly matched at the start of the contest. They traded buckets and had a couple of lead changes before a layup by sophomore center/forward Jenna Green gave Santa Barbara the lead for good at 17-15 with 10 minutes remaining in the first half. The Gauchos took a 39-28 point advantage into the half and extended that lead midway through the second period with a demoralizing 14-0 run.

“We certainly didn’t feel like we had everybody showing up to play tonight,” Tigers interim Head Coach Karen Weitz said.

Adorned with the glittery eye makeup that she breaks out every March, senior guard Karena Bonds tallied three assists, two steals and 14 points on 4-8 shooting, including 2-3 from beyond the arc. She was joined in double figures by three of her teammates: Green and senior forward Autumn Nichols both added 14 points while freshman guard Ana Onaindia added 11.

“That’s what we should be doing all the time,” Bonds said.

French wanted to deny Pacific senior forward Carolina Ruiz as much as possible in the high post, and the Gauchos were successful in this respect. Ruiz, the leading scorer for the Tigers, entered the locker room at halftime with zero points and ended the game with just six.

Sophomore guard Kelsey Lavender led the Tigers with 14 points and freshman guard Renee Roberts joined her in double figures with 10.

Only one game remains to be played in the regular season. Saturday’s contest against Northridge will be the final game that seniors Nichols and Bonds play in the Thunderdome.

“I’ve been trying not to think about it,” Nichols said. “I’m going to appreciate it because I know everyone’s going to come out and support us to the best of their abilities.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday. A victory against the Matadors (8-18 overall, 5-8 Big West) will ensure Santa Barbara at least a tie for the Big West regular season title.