Despite a small late-season stumble with its loss Feb. 24, the UCSB women’s basketball team has resumed form with a pair of wins on the road last week, including a 90-79 dismantling of Cal State Northridge on Saturday.
The Gauchos (17-12 overall, 10-4 in the Big West) came into the weekend in a three-way tie with the Matadors (13-15 overall, 9-5 Big West) and Cal Poly (14-13 overall, 9-5 Big West) for second place in the Big West. Northridge beat the Mustangs on Thursday, which allowed Santa Barbara to knock CSUN out of the second spot on Saturday, and grab a coveted two-round bye in the tournament. By earning the second seed, UCSB will be able to rest until the semifinals, and only have to win two games to win the tournament championship.
The Gauchos made an excellent showing in Saturday’s win, and had six players score in double-digits on their way to a season-high 90 points. Santa Barbara has found the most success when they are balanced as a team, and the win certainly gives a lot of momentum to the Gauchos as they get ready for the Big West Tournament.
Santa Barbara was led by junior guard Jessica Wilson, who had 17 points on six-of-11 shooting from the floor while hitting two of her four attempts from three-point range. She also hauled in seven rebounds and had a game-high four assists. Junior guard Chisa Ononiwu followed with 16 points, and had six boards and a career-high four steals.
Sophomore guard LaShay Fears, who was instrumental in the Gauchos’ Thursday win over Pacific with a career-high 23 points, dropped in 15 for her third game in a row in double figures. She hit nine of her 13 free throws, and had three steals and assists to go with five rebounds. Freshman guard Meagan Williams, who came into the game averaging just under four points a game, had a breakout performance with 14 points in just 23 minutes, along with a game-high eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Whitney Warren finished with 10 points off four-of-five shooting.
Santa Barbara, which has had trouble with slow starts lately, was explosive from the tip-off. Williams dropped eight of her points early, when the Gauchos opened up with a 20-6 lead that took them to the twelve-minute mark. UCSB went on a 13-6 stretch over the next eight minutes and held a 33-12 lead with four minutes to play. Despite a key three from guard Jamie McCaa of the Matadors, the Gauchos continued to stretch out the margin and took a 43-21 lead into the break.
UCSB continued the onslaught in the second half, making their first four shots to grab a 53-28 lead, its biggest of the day. The Matadors managed to get within 14 with a pair of threes at the 2:42 mark, but Santa Barbara quickly stretched the lead back to 21 with a minute and a half left. With the Gaucho starters resting on the bench, the Matadors closed the game with a 13-3 run, but it wasn’t nearly enough to earn the win.
With the victory and the second seed, the Gauchos will not have to play another game until this Friday in the Big West Tournament semifinals, when they will face the highest remaining seed.