The UCSB women’s basketball team came into Saturday’s contest with rival Cal Poly looking to prove that they were the class of the Big West. Forty dominating minutes of basketball later, the Mustangs had their first conference loss and the Gauchos were firmly established as the team to beat. With the convincing 75-58 victory, UCSB (10-6 overall, 5-0 in conference) took control with sole possession of first place in the Big West and looks prepared to take on any opponent. After being forced to make a huge comeback in their last Big West game, the Gauchos came out strong early and never slowed down.

UCSB never trailed, in part due to a hot start to the game. The Gauchos came out on fire, and within minutes the score was 11-3 after a jumper from junior guard Sha’Rae Gibbons. Back and forth play for the remainder of the half saw the Mustangs cut the lead to five, but also let it balloon to 13. However, the Gauchos began to pull away when junior center Kat Suderman put in a pair of free throws with 3:28 remaining and Santa Barbara took a double-digit lead for good. A last second jumper by Mustang point guard Kyla Howell cut the lead back to 35-25 at the half, but that would be the closest Cal Poly would come for the rest of the game. The Gauchos dominated the second half and never let the Mustangs back into the contest, cruising to the victory.

“We’ve been working really hard in practice all week,” Suderman said. “The coach has been on us a lot about playing better defense, boxing out, crashing the boards. We had something to prove to Cal Poly, because they had been talking on the news about us and thinking they were going to come out and play hard and beat us, so we had to bring it right back at them.”

Free throw shooting played a pivotal role for UCSB in a game where a lot of its shots weren’t falling. Santa Barbara’s 83.3 percentage from the charity stripe was a huge key to keeping the Mustangs at arm’s length throughout the game. On a night where junior guard Jessica Wilson and Sha’Rae Gibbons combined to shoot only 5-of-19 from the field, UCSB had to find points elsewhere.

The Gauchos did not have to look far, as freshman forward Ashlee Brown had a career night, going 6-for-6 from the court and 3-for-4 from the foul line. Her 15 points were a career high and led all scorers. Suderman also hit her stride in the second half, going 4-for-5 in the final 20 minutes. Despite struggling from the floor, Gibbons was phenomenal from the foul line in the second half, hitting all eight of her free throw attempts and thwarting any chance Cal Poly had at a frantic comeback.

“[Gibbons] is a great free throw shooter,” Suderman said. “I would definitely be confident with the ball in her hands late in the game.”

Another Gaucho who put up a career high in points was junior guard Lauren Pedersen, who tallied 13. She also made two of her three three-pointers, while the rest of the team was a combined 2-for-9 from beyond the arc.