At the halfway mark of the Big West season, the UCSB women’s basketball still hasn’t been touched.
With a 71-58 blowout at Pacific on Saturday, the Gauchos (12-6, 7-0 Big West) extended their win streak to eight games and continue to sit atop the Big West standings as the lone undefeated team. Junior guard Sha’Rae Gibbons led the team in Stockton with a career-high 23 points.
Santa Barbara has proven that it can win in any situation, and after letting UC Davis push matters into overtime last Thursday, the Gauchos bounced back by not allowing Pacific (8-12, 3-4 Big West) to take the lead at any point. UCSB burst out of the locker room, and five minutes in had stretched out a 15-3 lead.
After the initial scoring run, Santa Barbara maintained the lead until the Tigers clawed their way back with five minutes left before the break. Junior guard Amy VanHollebeke, who led the Tigers with 14 points, knocked down five in the closing minutes to pull Pacific within five at 28-23. The run didn’t last, as Gibbons and junior center Kat Suderman both put down four points apiece to take a 36-26 lead into the half.
Gibbons continued her hot shooting after the break and knocked down the first two jumpers of the second half. The Gauchos held Pacific scoreless for the first six minutes of the second period, and their 43-26 lead at that point was the largest of the game.
Pacific refused to cave in though, and cut nine points off the Santa Barbara lead by the eight-minute mark. But just as she did in the first half, Gibbons shut down the Tigers’ comeback, scoring nine of her points in the final minutes of the game. UCSB held its double-digit lead until the end of the game, and the Tigers were forced to foul, to no avail.
Gibbons was followed in double-digit scoring by Suderman with 16 and sophomore forward Jordan Franey with 12. Overall, the Gauchos shot 48.3 percent in the game, with an excellent 54.8 percent first-half mark. Junior guard Lauren Pedersen had one of her best nights, running the point with nine assists in 34 minutes, both career highs.
On the other end of the floor, the Gauchos’ defense did a solid job of slowing down the Big West’s highest scoring offense, and held Pacific to a 41 percent shooting mark. Rebounding has always been a key to this Santa Barbara team, and it dominated the glass with a 38-25 margin, 14 coming from the offensive end.
With the win, Santa Barbara has put a notch in the loss column of every Big West team, aside from its biggest competitor, UC Riverside. The defending champion Highlanders (7-10, 5-1 Big West) have defeated the Gauchos in their last five meetings, and Riverside stands the best chance of derailing the Gauchos’ perfect season. UCR is classically a defense-oriented team, and the team holds its opponents to the worst shooting percentage in the league. However, Riverside’s solid shooting defense has not translated into extra production for its offense, and the Highlanders are near the bottom of the Big West in rebounding and turnovers. With the Gauchos’ high-powered offense and solid defensive play of late, Riverside will be forced to score to keep pace with UCSB. Their first meeting of the year will occur in the Thunderdome this Thursday, and should prove to be a pivotal game for the two contenders for this year’s Big West title.