The UCSB women’s basketball team jumped out to a big early lead and cruised to an easy 76-47 victory over Cal Poly Pomona in its only exhibition game before the season opener.
The Gauchos led 13-2 after only three minutes of action and with strong defensive play leading the way, UCSB eventually jumped out to a 25-2 lead. Santa Barbara went into halftime leading by 30 points, and at one point in the second half extended the lead to 47. With a new starting lineup, the Gauchos showed that defensive intensity and rebounding will be keys to success this season.
“I’m always proud of our kids when they give a good effort and I think the reality is that they know that we have to be this kind of a team,” Head Coach Mark French said. “We’re not as talented as some of our past Gaucho teams and we’re going to need to compensate with another kind of talent, which is heart, energy, effort, diving for loose balls and scrambling for offensive boards. We need to do all the non-glamorous things.”
Along with their strong defensive play, the Gauchos were, at times, also able to score at will. Juniors guard Jessica Wilson and center Jenna Green outscored Pomona 26-16 in the first half, and the duo finished with 40 combined points on the night. Wilson tied her career record with 22 points and also contributed nine rebounds.
“I think [Wilson] realizes that she’s a junior now and this is her time,” French said. “If she can play with that level of intensity all season long we’ll have a great inside-out combination because we know [Green] is going to be rock solid. I think [Wilson] is growing up and she’s ready to take a different role than she’s had in the past.”
UCSB also got a significant contribution from a couple of freshman: forward Jordan Franey and guard Ariana Gnekow. Franey started alongside Green in the frontcourt and finished with eight points and nine rebounds. Gnekow, a local product from Santa Ynez High School, finished with nine points and nine rebounds, just shy of a double-double.
“We need our freshman to play well,” French said. “It’s very important for them to step up, more so than probably any year I’ve been here.”
Another good sign for the Gauchos was their lack of turnovers. UCSB turned the ball over only 11 times while forcing Pomona into 24 turnovers. Despite the dominance, the Gauchos did struggle from the free throw line and from beyond the arc. UCSB shot 57 percent on free throws and only 18 percent on three-pointers. However, French said that he felt it was mostly a one-game aberration.
“I think we’ll be a pretty good free throw shooting team,” French said. “I don’t know that we’ll be a great three-point shooting team, but I did think that we got good looks at threes tonight and we got them out of the flow of our offense. I was pleased that we got a lot of perimeter scoring, even if it wasn’t from three-pointers tonight.”
The win over Pomona was the one and only exhibition contest this season for the Gauchos. UCSB will begin the regular season on Friday when it hosts Portland State at 2 p.m. at the Thunderdome.