Sometimes even a loss can show how well a team is playing.
A year ago, the UCSB women’s basketball team traveled to play national power Maryland on the road and came back with a brutal 61-point loss. This year was a different story, and Friday the Gauchos (2-3 overall) carried a lead halfway through the second half, but in the end they narrowly missed the upset of the #3 Terrapins (7-0) by four points.
Shooting has been an issue for the Gauchos in the early goings of the season, but Friday night’s 75-71 score shows otherwise. UCSB shot a solid 25-of-60 and shot 31.8 percent from behind the arc. Senior guard Chisa Ononiwu led Santa Barbara with 20 points while shooting 4-of-8 from three-point land, and fellow seniors center Jenna Green and guard Jessica Wilson also scored in the double digits with 16 and 12 points apiece.
Strong scoring kept Santa Barbara in the running with a Maryland offense that has outscored opponents by an average of 26.5 points per game. The Terrapins’ closest previous win was a 76-66 victory over #6 Oklahoma. Despite the loss, the fact that the Gauchos came closer to toppling Maryland is a great sign for UCSB.
“I’m very, very proud of the way our kids competed,” Head Coach Mark French said. “I think we’re all a little disappointed we didn’t pull off the upset, but we’ll certainly be more confident going forward knowing we’re capable of competing with one of the best teams in the country.”
The Gaucho defense held strong as well and limited Maryland to 18-of-47 shooting. Santa Barbara also held the rebound margin close, losing the battle of the boards by only two, and both teams grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. However, fouls let the Terrapins stay in the game despite the limited baskets. Incredibly, Maryland made 29 more free throws than the Gauchos, and that stat won the game.
Maryland stormed out of the gate to a 16-3 lead five minutes in, but the Gauchos began to heat up and cut the lead in half by the 10-minute mark. The Terrapins answered over the next few minutes and stretched the lead back to 12 at 31-19. However, UCSB used an 11-6 run to close the half down by seven.
Wilson and Ononiwu came out of the locker room with a pair of lay ups, and Santa Barbara speedily chipped away at Maryland’s lead. Junior forward Lauren Pedersen drained a trey to knot it at 39-39. Minutes later junior guard Whitney Warren hit a jumper to put the Gauchos up 42-39.
Maryland then took control of the game, scoring the next eight straight. Just inside the nine-minute mark, the Terrapins had pushed the lead to 54-44, and were eventually up 61-50 with 5:58 left. Santa Barbara caught fire again and owned the rest of the game, finishing the match with a 21-12 run. Junior guard Sha’Rae Gibbons hit a pair of free throws with just 25 seconds left to pull the Gauchos within two. Santa Barbara had to foul on the next play, and Maryland junior guard Kristi Toliver drained the free throws to seal the game at 75-71.
The Gauchos are headed on the road for their next three games, and they begin the road trip this Thursday in Santa Clara.