Sometimes even good teams struggle, but the UCSB women’s basketball team proved it will not have any of that with last night’s 73-61 blowout against conference rival UC Riverside. The Gauchos (13-6, 8-0 in the Big West), wearing brand-new gold jerseys, came back from an early hiccup to take down the Highlanders (7-11, 5-2 Big West) and extend their win streak to nine.
The 1,500 people in attendance were treated to the greatest installment yet of the Jessica Wilson show, who came into the game just 16 points shy of being the 1,000 point club’s 22nd member. The senior guard didn’t disappoint, finishing the game with 19 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes, all of which are team highs. Wilson actually broke the barrier with a minute left off a breakaway steal, but when she knocked another lay-up down with seconds left, the announcer let the crowd know the incredible milestone she had reached. Amid a standing ovation, Wilson temporarily forgot about playing defense and immediately began jumping and cheering on the court. However, not even Head Coach Mark French was concerned about her defensive lapse, and the Thunderdome lived up to its name as time expired.
“It feels really good to hit that mark and finally get past it and put it behind me,” Wilson said. “Of course, I could never have gotten to this point without all of the great teammates I’ve had.”
Santa Barbara came into the game wearing special gold jerseys, a color French said he hasn’t let a team wear since the 2000 season. Adidas, the team’s sponsor, gave the Gauchos an extra set of jerseys this year and French specifically wanted gold, a color he has only let his best defensive teams wear. With the importance of last night’s game, the gold jerseys were brought out after the afternoon shoot-around on the stipulation that only they could only be worn if a solid defensive effort was given.
“It’s another hokey play on the part of the coaching staff to ramp up the intensity a notch,” French said. “There’s just something about coaching women; they love getting new clothes.”
The Gauchos have been playing solid defense all year, and they did their new jerseys justice with last night’s effort. With six steals and five blocks, Santa Barbara took full advantage of Riverside’s 18 turnovers. More importantly, UCSB dominated the boards, with a 43-33 margin over UCR and 16 on the offensive end.
“After shoot-around, coach showed us the gold jerseys; they were worn by great defensive teams,” sophomore guard Meagan Williams said. “We knew we had to play well with them on.”
With the win, the Gauchos have made it over the toughest obstacle in the first half of the season unscathed. Sitting solidly atop the Big West, the team has seen how well it can play, and it knows how its players have to play to keep succeeding in the future. The key for this squad is to keep fighting through the second portion of the Big West season. But for now, the team is going to take the weekend and enjoy the win.
“I’m very confident that the team realizes that it isn’t luck or talent; we are winning because we are working very, very hard,” French said. “The first thing we’re going to do is savor the victory, unless we have studying tonight, and we’re going to take Friday off. It feels better to be through the first half and playing well.”