Losing is hard to take. Maybe that could explain why Santa Barbara seems to be avoiding it like the plague recently. Even an unimaginably bad first half and a 16-point deficit could not keep UCSB out of the win column on Saturday, as Lindsay Gottlieb’s Gauchos stormed back to beat Cal Poly 55-45 on Saturday in the Thunderdome.
“When you are trying to be a championship team there are benchmark moments,” the first-year head coach said. “Being down 12 [at halftime] at home, to a rival who’s playing well was a time that we could fold a little bit — or not.
“I think we picked the not, pretty resoundingly.”
The win was UCSB’s seventh in a row, and it leaves the Gauchos with a perfect 5-0 mark in conference to go along with a respectable 10-6 record overall. While the end result — a double-digit Santa Barbara win — may look straightforward enough, during the first half a UCSB win seemed less likely than 5-7 senior point guard Sha’Rae Gibbons dunking the ball. Though Gibbons did not dunk on the Mustangs, her intensity unquestionably helped orchestrate a brilliant comeback victory for Santa Barbara.
“We have games like this, we have games where people come out and attack us,” Gibbons said. “After the first half, we were running into the locker room and I just kept saying, ‘We’re not going to lose this game, there’s no way we’re going to lose this game.'” She and her teammates might have been the only people in the Thunderdome feeling that way.
The 29-17 halftime score hardly conveys how abysmal the first frame really was for UCSB. The Gauchos hit a total of four field goals out of 21 attempts, and were riding an eight-minute drought from the floor when they went into the locker room. From three UCSB was even worse, going a remarkably bad 1-11 outside the arc. In fact, the only redeeming characteristic to the first 20 minutes was a perfect 8-8 mark from the free throw line. And yet, despite all of its woes, Santa Barbara would not go away.
UCSB came out firing in the second half, starting out with nine consecutive points to narrow the gap to three. Suddenly, with tons of momentum and a wild home crowd behind them, the Gauchos were right back in the game.
“Our whole mindset changed a little bit with looking to jump on them early in the half and that’s exactly what out players did,” Gottlieb said. But how could she know just how well her plan would work?
“When you have a halftime deficit, as coaches we think ‘OK, chip away a little bit, chip away.’ But if we can do it that quickly I’m not going to complain.”
With 12:47 to go, sophomore forward Ashlee Brown hit a layup to tie the game at 34-34. It was the first tie since 0-0, and from there, the Gaucho onslaught continued. UCSB never let off the gas, demolishing its rival from the north for a 38-16 second half.
When the dust eventually settled, Santa Barbara had a 55-45 victory in hand and the Mustangs were left wondering what hit them. The answer was a heavy dose of Jenna Green.
The sixth-year senior forward went off for 12 second-half points, and proved to be unstoppable underneath. Possession after possession saw Green getting the ball underneath, and she did not disappoint. Then again, she had a lot of help, too.
Gibbons had 11 points and four steals, junior guard Jordan Franey notched 13 points of her own, and junior guard Meagan Williams put up a beastly three blocks. Lauren Pedersen, usually the team’s leading scorer, was relatively quiet with nine points on 2-12 shooting. Even still, the savvy senior guard led all players with four assists and had three steals to boot.
Next up for UCSB is UC Davis, which should be a main contender in the Big West Conference. When the Aggies watch the game tape from this one, they will probably realize a couple of things. First: that there are ways to beat the Gauchos, even at home. Second: and this is a big one — that they had better play all 40 minutes, because Santa Barbara sure will.