For the second time this season, Cal Poly gave UCSB all it could handle on the basketball court. And, for the second time this season, the Gauchos came out on top.
Weeks after storming back from a 16-point deficit on its home court, UCSB hit the road to face off against a Mustang squad itching to prove it belonged at the top of the conference. This time, the result was even closer. In fact, the final outcome in this one was not decided until Cal Poly forward Lisa McBride left a game-winning three-pointer short with just seven seconds to go. Santa Barbara grabbed the rebound, hit its free throws and won the game 66-62 — allowing the still undefeated-in-conference Gauchos to take a deep collective sigh of relief.
“It was a really good win on the road against one of the best teams in the conference,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “We took their best shot.”
Featuring for UCSB was sixth-year senior Jenna Green, who continued her stellar play with a huge 23-point, 12-rebound performance. Considering Green missed the Gauchos last game with a shoulder injury, her fantastic play was more than welcome to her coach.
“It’s one of the best performances at the post that I’ve been around in my career,” Gottlieb said. “It was that impressive.”
The first half started off evenly, with the teams trading buckets for the first 13 minutes. Down one at 22-21, UCSB turned on the gas with a 9-0 run. With just four minutes remaining in the first half, the Gauchos had the game’s largest lead at eight points. However, the Mustangs countered with a run of their own, narrowing the deficit to three points at halftime.
The second half saw more of the same intense basketball, and neither squad was able to mount a run until the end. With nine minutes remaining, UCSB began to put some buckets together, and again mounted a 9-0 run. Leading 59-51 with two minutes remaining, it looked like Santa Barbara might just pull away. The Mustangs would not go so quietly, though.
A barrage of buckets in the final seconds brought Cal Poly back within one score, and with 20 seconds remaining, the Gaucho lead was only one point.
Freshman point guard Emilie Johnson hit one of her two free throws, giving the Mustangs the final possession and a chance to tie or win with 19 seconds to go.
McBride, who registered team highs with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the contest, took a potential game-winner with only seven seconds remaining. However, her shot was off the mark and Gaucho junior forward Jordan Franey scooped up the rebound to ice the game.
Getting the win against its Central Coast rival is certainly a big deal to UCSB, especially given the conference implications: The Mustangs sit in third place in the conference, while the Gauchos remain on top.
“They’re really, really good,” Gottlieb said. “The combination of size, skill and versatility is really tough to match up with at both ends of the floor.
“I have a lot of respect for them.”
With the win, UCSB improves to 16-7, and 11-0 in the Big West, and the Mustangs fall to 15-8, with a 7-4 conference mark.
While the remainder of the conference season should certainly prove challenging, Gottlieb (who has yet to lose a Big West game as coach) takes a lot of positives out of this win.
“In some ways they’re accustomed to winning big games on the road,” she said, referring to the winning track record left by former Head Coach Mark French. “… But I told them I felt that this was a March atmosphere.”
With only five games remaining until tournament time, every game might have that feeling. If Saturday was any indication, UCSB will be ready.