Norfolk, Va.–Following a two-year absence the UCSB women’s basketball team got a rude welcoming back to the Big Dance.
UCSB (23-8) gave fourth-seeded Virginia a scare in the first half, but the Cavaliers (24-9) showed their stockpile of talent in the second half en route to an 86-52 blowout win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With four players reaching double-figures in scoring, and a 47-31 rebounding advantage, the Cavaliers took a nine-point lead into halftime and pulled away from the Gauchos soon after the teams emerged from the locker rooms.
“They have a lot of weapons and a lot of kids that played real well and we just couldn’t keep them off the glass,” Head Coach Mark French said. “They played a great game and there should be some great games down the road for them.”
Senior guard Jessica Wilson led the way for the Gauchos with 13 points in her final appearance as a Gaucho. Wilson played only 24 minutes before fouling out late in the second half. Freshman forward Ashlee Brown showed that she’s ready to take the scoring reigns from Wilson with a 10-point performance to go along with six rebounds.
“[Brown] played well on a big stage and I’m sure that’s going to be great motivation for her during the spring and summer,” French said.
UCSB had a one-point lead with 9:15 remaining in the first half, and the Gauchos trailed by only three points with four minutes remaining in the half, but like the good teams always do, the Cavaliers went on a run to end the half and led 39-30 at the break. Virginia came out firing in the second half, and with Wilson and junior guard Lauren Pedersen spending long stretches on the bench due to foul trouble, the Cavaliers extended their lead with ease. Senior guard Sharneé Zoll — the Atlantic Coast Conferences all-time assists leader – finished with 13 points on five-of-seven shooting, while junior forwards Aisha Mohammed and Lyndra Littles combined for 32 points and 17 rebounds. Despite leading the ACC in scoring this season, sophomore guard Monica Wright was shut down by the Gauchos, and scored only six points on zero-for-10 shooting from the field.
After losing in the Big West Tournament finals for two straight years, the Gauchos recovered to win their 12th tournament title on March 22. Despite the losses of Wilson, the Big West player of the year, and senior guard Chisa Ononiwu, Santa Barbara is well positioned to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament next season. Four starters will return, along with soon-to-be sixth-year senior center Jenna Green, who took a medical redshirt this season. In addition the Gauchos should benefit from the continued growth of underclassmen like Brown, freshman forward Margaret Johnson and sophomore guards Meagan Williams, Ariana Gnekow and Jordan Franey. Wisconsin transfer Christine Spencer and redshirt freshman guard Courtney Collishaw are also expected to make an impact.
“Programs go kind of sequentially in waves and we’ve been down for a couple of years and this team got us back in the right direction and put us in a very good position for next year. I will remember this team as kind of the team that got us out of that two-year downspin and put us back as a dominating force in the Big West [Conference],” French said.