Count UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton as UCSB’s latest victims, because the Gauchos thundered past the Anteaters and the Titans on their way to two weekend wins.
UCSB started off the action Thursday night with a 50-38 victory at Irvine. The Anteaters started strong, exploding to a 14-4 lead after seven minutes.
“Irvine came out hot, and that’s what we expected,” junior forward Jordan Franey said. “In games like that, getting stops on defense leads to offense.”
The Gauchos did just that, shutting down the Anteater offense for just 24 points in the remaining 32 minutes. UCSB nearly doubled that output, putting up 46 points in the same span. In fact, Santa Barbara took hardly any time at all to erase the early deficit, going on a 13-2 run to take a 17-16 lead with seven minutes to go in the first half.
“I thought we never panicked,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. She continued: “The main thing is we found a way to win.”
Leading the way for UCSB were Franey and senior guard Lauren Pedersen. Pedersen, who has put up phenomenal numbers all season, again led the team with 13 points. Franey, meanwhile, came off the bench to very nearly register a double-double, with eight points and nine rebounds.
It was the defense, though, that made all the difference for UCSB. The Gauchos held the Anteaters to 26% shooting, including an abysmal 21.7% in the second half.
“We’ve been pretty solid all year holding some pretty good offensive teams to lower points,” Franey said. “Defense is the main key to everything on this team.”
The key was certainly not ball control against Irvine, as Santa Barbara had a dreadful four assists to its 18 turnovers. Seniors Pedersen, Jenna Green and Sha’Rae Gibbons, who usually anchor the team, committed 13 of those turnovers and had no assists between them.
“We struggled in taking care of the ball, uncharacteristically,” Gottlieb said. “If we can pull out games when our top performers aren’t their sharpest, that’s a good sign.”
The next game for UCSB was against previously undefeated-in-conference Cal State Fullerton, and figured to be an even tougher challenge for the Gauchos. What made it worse was the sudden absence of Green, who suffered back spasms before the game and was unable to compete. Combined with senior post Kat Suderman still being injured, the Gauchos were suddenly without the same imposing inside presence they had become accustomed to.
Even without Suderman and Green, the Gauchos still managed to pull out a win on the road — buoyed by a 14-0 second half run. Four players scored double-digits, which included sophomore forward Margaret Johnson notching a career-high 14 points. Pedersen again had a solid game, scoring 10 points to go with 8 rebounds and 3 steals. But again, it was defense that really gave UCSB the win. The Titans could only muster 26.9% shooting from the field, and went a miserable 2-22 from beyond the arc. And while the game may not have been pretty, the Gauchos will take a conference win any way they can get it.
“We had some adverse conditions,” Gottlieb said, “and I thought that people really stepped up. What really came through in the weekend was our ability to showcase our depth.”
Franey agreed. “It’s a testament to how deep our team is. You never know with injuries what you’re going to have each game.”
With the two wins, UCSB improves to 8-6, and 4-0 in Big West conference play. The victories were also Gottlieb’s first career road wins as a head coach after taking over for Mark French this season. Next up for Santa Barbara is a home stand against Portland State and Cal Poly later this week.