With the Big West title locked up and two of its key starters sitting out with suspensions, the UCSB women’s basketball team still managed to put forth a solid effort in a victory over Cal State Northridge last night at the Thunderdome.
The Gauchos (20-7 overall, 14-1 in the Big West) outscored the Matadors (1-25, 0-15 Big West), who were hungry for their first conference win, 46-33 in the second half to sail to a 71-58 win, their 15th win in their last 16 games. Santa Barbara was led by senior guard Chisa Ononiwu, who scored 19 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, and freshman forward Ashlee Brown, who had a rough shooting night but compensated in other areas, scoring 11 points and adding 13 rebounds and four steals. Northridge got a strong contribution from senior forward Katie Holloway, who finished her final game at the Thunderdome with 29 points and 14 rebounds.
A scuffle in Santa Barbara’s last game against Riverside resulted in the ejections and subsequent one-game suspensions of senior guard Jessica Wilson and junior forward Kat Suderman. As a result, freshman forward Margaret Johnson and sophomore guard Meagan Williams were inserted into the starting lineup. The game got off to a slow start, with the first field goal not coming until the 15:50 mark when Holloway put Northridge ahead 4-1 on a layup. Turnovers and fouls continued to dictate a slow pace, but Santa Barbara managed to capture its first lead of 9-8 at the 12-minute mark on a layup from Johnson. The Gauchos built the lead up to as much as nine with 4:51 remaining, but the Matadors refused to go away, responding with a 12-3 run that eventually tied the game at 25 going into halftime. Shooting was dismal for both teams in the half, with the Gauchos shooting just 25.8 percent compared to 32 percent for the Matadors.
“I can’t give enough credit to Northridge,” Head Coach Mark French said. “To be 1-25 and still do what they needed to do; they out-hustled and out-rebounded us, so I give a tremendous amount of credit to their coaching staff and their players to have that kind of energy.”
Santa Barbara reclaimed the momentum in the second half, beginning the period on a 7-0 run that put the home team ahead 32-25. Northridge continued to show a great deal of tenacity, eventually tying the game again at 33 with 15:40 left in the game. From that point on, UCSB was able to put some distance between the two teams, taking its first double-digit lead on free-throws from Ononiwu that made the score 53-42 with 6:58 left. The home team was able to hold on to the advantage, eventually coming away with the 71-58 victory.
Saturday the Gauchos will play their last regular season game at home against Long Beach State. It will be the final time for Santa Barbara fans to see senior guards Wilson and Ononiwu on the home court, as UCSB will celebrate their contributions to the program with senior day. The game gets underway at 2 p.m. at the Thunderdome.
“I really cherish the opportunity and am just going to go out there and have fun,” Ononiwu said. “I want everyone to remember me and [Wilson], and we’re going to try to finish strong and do whatever we can for the team.”