A blistering first half was all it took for the UCSB women’s basketball team to earn its second consecutive win in exhibition play as it defeated cross-town foe Westmont 79-55.
The Gauchos outscored the Warriors 47-27 in the first half of Saturday afternoon’s contest and coasted the rest of the way, winning their second of two preseason games. UCSB was once again without the services of senior center Jenna Green, who is out with a lingering back injury, but the other Gaucho seniors were able to pick up the slack, with guard Chisa Ononiwu scoring a team-high 18 points and Jessica Wilson scoring eight points and adding eight assists. Santa Barbara will now turn its attention to the regular season, which it will begin at home on Friday night against Brigham Young University. Despite the win, Head Coach Mark French was upset with his team’s performance in the second half.
“I was pretty disappointed in today’s performance,” French said. “We played well in the first half and then played very lethargically in the second half, and if we play that way against BYU or USC, it’s very difficult to imagine beating a team of their caliber; we’ll have to play well for two halves not one half so I would say I’m not tremendously optimistic right now.”
Santa Barbara gained control of the game early, when junior guard Sha’Rae Gibbons recorded one of her five steals which led to a lay-up by Ononiwu and put the Gauchos ahead 8-2 in the game’s first three minutes. A three-pointer from sophomore guard Meagan Williams at the 13:16 mark triggered an 8-0 UCSB run that put the home team ahead 21-10 with 12:05 left in the half. The Gauchos stretched the lead to 20 with 21 seconds remaining as Wilson got the ball to junior forward Kat Suderman who used her size to nail a jumper over the top of Westmont’s defenders and earned Wilson her seventh assist of the half.
UCSB seemed to be picking up where it left off in the second half, as Suderman scored two of her 10 total points at the 16:36 mark to cap a 7-0 run that stretched the lead to 56-29. Sophomore guard Ariana Gnekow drained a three nearly a minute later to give the Gauchos a 28-point advantage.
“[Gnekow] is playing really well,” French said. “She’s been shooting the ball well in addition to her usual good defense and great offensive rebounding.”
Westmont played UCSB more evenly in the second half, though it never cut the margin to anything lower than 22 points. A jumper by Ononiwu with 7:41 remaining gave the Gauchos their biggest lead of the game at 29 and Santa Barbara was able to cruise to victory, winning by a final score of 79-55. Much of the damage was done in the first half however, as UCSB only outscored the Warriors by four in the second frame, 32-28.
“We’ve got to make a lot of changes in the next three days of practice in terms of stringing together two good halves if we expect to be competitive,” French said.
The Gauchos will spend the next week preparing for their regular season opener Friday night, when they will host defending Mountain West Conference champion BYU at the Thunderdome at 7p.m.