The streak of Big West Conference Championships lives on for the UCSB women’s basketball team. With their convincing 85-63 win over Northridge, the Gauchos (15-12 overall, 10-4 in the Big West) earned a tie for first place in the Big West, paired with Long Beach (18-9, 10-4 Big West).
In the match against the Matadors (8-19 overall, 5-9 Big West), Santa Barbara said farewell to two seniors, forward Autumn Nichols and guard Karena Bonds, in a ceremony prior to the game. The seniors and co-captains were sent off victorious thanks to a solid team effort in the contest.
“That’s really what we wanted to do,” Head Coach Mark French said. “We wanted to have this last game be a gift to them.”
Both teams shot below 40 percent in the first half. With Santa Barbara up four points, and with time winding down, a Northridge player missed a shot in the paint, leaving four seconds on the clock. Sophomore center/forward Jenna Green corralled the rebound and passed it out to freshman Guard LaShay Fears. Fears dribbled to the half-court line and launched a 3-pointer that swished home with the buzzer sounding.
“I looked up and saw that there was two seconds left,” Fears said. “I just said in my mind, ‘Half-court!'”
French said that the last-second shot was reminiscent of Stacy Clinesmith, a former Gaucho basketball star who currently plays for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.
“That’s the Stacy Clinesmith legacy of buzzer-beaters we have here,” French said.
The Gauchos entered the locker rooms with a 37-30 advantage and never looked back. Perhaps inspired by Fears’ marksmanship, Santa Barbara lit up the nets in the second half, shooting 53 percent and ending a month-long shooting disaster that had the Gauchos averaging under 40 percent a game. UCSB’s energy and willingness to shoot seemed to carry over to the defense as well – the Gauchos had a season high 19 steals and forced Northridge to turn the ball over 27 times.
“It was really about poor decision making on the perimeter,” Northridge Head Coach Staci Shulz said. “And that started with just good pressure on the ball.”
Sophomore guard Jessica Wilson had a terrific all-around game. She scored a game high 17 points, grabbed eight rebounds and recorded a game-high five steals. Two of her teammates joined her in double-digits in the scoring column: Green recorded 15 points with nine boards and freshman guard Ana Onaindia added 10.
The Gauchos could be seen smiling during the second half, and appeared to be enjoying their final regular-season contest.
“It was fun,” Bonds said. “It’s always fun to see everybody contribute and play hard.”
The Gauchos now have a week off to prepare for the Big West Tournament. As Santa Barbara owns the tiebreaker over Long Beach, it will have the #1 seed and will play again March 10 at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena.