Suddenly, on a sunny afternoon in San Diego, it all came together. After stumbling through four season-opening contests marred by poor shooting, turnovers and inconsistency in the post, the UCSB women’s basketball team put all those worries to bed — at least for an afternoon — in yesterday’s 75-65 road win over the University of San Diego. Bolstered by a career-high 29 points from sophomore point guard Emilie Johnson, a double-double from junior center Mekia Valentine and an improbable five-point play late in the second half, Santa Barbara (1-4 overall) secured their first win of the young season.
“It feels great,” senior forward Jordan Franey said. “I think the way we played tonight, it didn’t matter who we played; we could have beaten them.”
After going down early in their two previous losses to LMU and Kentucky, UCSB needed to come out strong and did just that, opening the engagement with a 5-0 run capped by junior forward Margaret Johnson’s surprise three-ball. However, the first half proved to be an even affair, and only an Emilie Johnson three-pointer and buzzer-beating jumper by Franey ended up putting the Gauchos ahead 37-34 at the break.
Emilie Johnson, who made all three of her shots from downtown in the first half, finished 5-8 from beyond the arc and contributed six rebounds, two assists, one steal and even one block.
Johnson’s expertise from long range opened up the low post game for UCSB, allowing Valentine to finally exert her will on the boards. The Wake Forest transfer grabbed all 12 of her rebounds in the second half and finished with 19 points for her second double-double as a Gaucho. Even with Valentine’s presence down low, San Diego refused to fold, relying on a career-high 30 points from sophomore guard Dominique Connors to keep the score close.
The turning point came with 3:34 remaining in regulation, the game tied at 56. Franey set a high screen for Johnson to free her for a three-point opportunity, which she drilled, putting UCSB up 59-56. However, at that exact instant freshman guard Danesia Williamson tried to fight through Franey’s screen, sending the senior to the line for one-and-one. Franey made both to complete a back-breaking five-point play, and UCSB never looked back. Santa Barbara outscored the Toreros 19-6 to close out the game and solidify the victory.
“It completely changed the whole game,” Franey said. “It was incredible.”
Aside from shooting 48 percent from the floor, the Gauchos can also hang their hats on the defensive end. UCSB held San Diego to 31 percent shooting in the second half and prevented the three-pointer as well, with USD making only two of their 14 attempts.
“Tonight I thought we played so much better on defense,” Franey said. “I think that’ll be a major key to carry on into the next game.”
UCSB stays on the road for their next two games at Portland State and Oregon State before returning to the Thunderdome to host Cal State Bakersfield and UCLA on Dec. 13 and 15, respectively.