For any team, a combination of talent and hard work generally leads to success.
For the UCSB women’s basketball team, success has come late, and yet could not have come at a better time.
Saturday afternoon’s 86-67 win over visiting UC Irvine extended the Gauchos’ win streak to three matches, their longest of the year. More importantly, the wins all come at the opening of the Big West conference season. Just over a week ago, UCSB (7-8 overall, 3-1 in the Big West) lost its first conference game of the year in a 70-57 routing by UC Riverside. That loss left Santa Barbara with a record of 4-8 overall, placing it at the bottom of the Big West. It’s amazing what three wins can do.
Saturday’s win showcased a UCSB offense that really displayed its scoring power. With the win, the Gauchos have propelled themselves to the top of the Big West standings and are just one game away from .500 overall.
“I think what you saw was as close to a strong, consistent performance on the offensive end of the floor for the entire game as we have had all season,” Head Coach Mark French said.
Santa Barbara’s charge was led by junior guard Jessica Wilson who racked up stats from all areas of the court with 15 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Her 12 assists were not only a career-best, but also the most by any Gaucho this season. Wilson was only one of five Gaucho players to score in double digits. Sophomore guard LaShay Fears topped the team with 18 points, with two-for-three shooting from beyond the arc as well as six assists. Junior guard Chisa Ononiwu had her career best game, knocking down six-of-seven for 16 points including three three-pointers. Sophomore forward Whitney Warren shot 100 percent to finish with 15 points, and junior center Jenna Green rounded it out with 13 points and a game-high four blocks.
Santa Barbara knocked down an impressive seven-of-10 shots from downtown and was 31-for-57 overall en route to a season-high 54.5 percent mark from the field. UCSB also recorded a season high with 22 assists to compliment the 31 drained shots.
“I think our offense is really finding its rhythm,” French said. “We are distributing the ball well, and obviously we had a great day shooting the ball. It always helps anytime you have five players in double figures, as well.”
The Gauchos started off hot, running out to an 8-0 lead, and kept the pressure on with a 20-9 run to build its biggest lead of the half. The Anteaters managed to close the gap to 11 when junior guard Annie Mai hit a trey for three of her 19 points. However, a layup by Warren and a free throw from Green pushed the lead back to 14. The Gauchos took the lead into the half with a 43-29 score at the break.
UCSB continued playing hot in the second half, coming out of the locker room with a 7-0 run. Halfway through, Santa Barbara got its biggest lead of the game with a 21 point gap, at 63-42. Irvine’s effort to close the gap was unsuccessful, and the Gauchos took their lead from start to finish.
UCSB next takes on nonconference opponent Utah Valley State on Jan. 11 in the Thunderdome; tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.