Three weeks ago, the UCSB women’s basketball team was off to a rocky start under first-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb. The team had just lost to Kentucky and found itself with an uncomfortable 3-6 record. What a difference most of a month can make.
Six games and six wins later, the Gauchos are 9-6 and playing fantastic basketball. The latest victim of the UCSB onslaught was 11-6 Portland State from the Big Sky Conference, who fell 67-60 in the Thunderdome Wednesday night.
“I was able to sit back and watch our offense and be like: ‘They’re getting it,'” Gottlieb said. “It has begun to click and I think it’ll click even more.”
For Santa Barbara, this game might prove to be quite a milestone. Portland State came in boasting an 11-5 record and had defeated Santa Barbara handily in last season’s contest. Gottlieb’s Gauchos were not intimidated. UCSB shut down the Viking offense, including effectively shutting down its two best players: Claire Faucher and Kelsey Kahle.
“Our defense is always gonna be what’s gonna win us games,” senior center Jenna Green said. Green certainly contributed to that defense, as she tallied eight rebounds and redirected three Viking shots on the night.
Kahle, the Portland State leader in points, was held to a meager 3-12 shooting. Faucher, the assist extraordinaire, was shut down entirely. Gottlieb, naturally, summed it up best.
“She led the nation in assists last year, and had zero tonight,” the coach said. She continued, “We played the scouting report to a T.”
The teams came out of the gates fairly even, but with seven minutes to go in the first half UCSB went on a 10-1 run to open up a bit of a lead. However, right before halftime Portland State narrowed that gap with a run of its own, and the halftime margin was only four.
The Vikings managed to take the lead six minutes into the second, when Faucher knocked down a jumper to make the score 37-35 PSU. When the Gauchos evened it back up, Faucher drained another three to regain the lead. Instead of backing down, the Gauchos countered just a minute later. Senior guard Lauren Pedersen knocked down a huge three to take the wind out of the Vikings’ sails, and the squads battled to a gridlock for the next few minutes.
It was only with six and a half minutes to go that the Gauchos finally made their run. Tied at 50-50, UCSB blasted PSU for a 10-0 run, leaving the Vikings down double digits with under three minutes left. Santa Barbara hit its free throws down the stretch, and came away with a big victory.
“[Coach Gottlieb] really expects us seniors … to pull together and lead our team,” Green said. They certainly did on Wednesday, as that 10-0 run down the stretch featured eight points by seniors, while the other two were by junior Jordan Franey.
Four players scored in double figures for the Gauchos on the night, but when it came down to it, defense was the key.
“I’m really proud of our defense,” Gottlieb said, “because that’s what you can hang your hat on no matter what, and that’s what we’ve been able to do. That’ll stay consistent and hopefully our offense can get better.”
If the Gaucho offense does manage to become more consistent, six wins in a row might just be the beginning.
UCSB’s shot at a seventh consecutive victory will come against conference foe Cal Poly on Saturday. That game will be at the Thunderdome, and tipoff is set for 2 p.m.