Breaking a curse is never a cakewalk, but Long Beach State certainly came close to making their 78-63 drubbing of UCSB Thursday night look like one. In front of 1,589 onlookers at the Thunderdome, the 49ers (7-9 overall, 3-1 in Big West) ended a seven-game losing streak to the Gauchos (5-11, 2-2) and secured their first win on Santa Barbara’s home court since 1991, thanks in part to 12-22 shooting from three-point land. UCSB was able to cut a once 19-point deficit to eight midway through the second half, but LBSU refused to cool off, issuing a 13-6 run from that point to effectively seal the outcome.
“Credit to Long Beach, they made a lot of shots,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “I thought our success was going to start and end with our energy level, so we made a defensive adjustment to go to some pressing … I think the change in tempo forced them into a couple turnovers and got them shooting quicker, a little more out of rhythm. Then they found the seams with it and hit a couple key buckets.”
From the opening tip it seemed like both teams were both geared for the fast-paced game the opening minutes became. Both teams traded baskets it seemed until the five minute mark of the first when, tied at 29, senior forward Brett Timmons made a pair of free-throws that sparked an 8-2 49er run to end the half. Long Beach, whose first three baskets were made from downtown, shot 7-13 from behind the arc in the first half alone, with senior guard Lauren Sims leading all scorers with 12 points on 4-6 three-point shooting. As a testament to UCSB’s personnel awareness, fifth-year senior guard Karina Figueroa was shut out offensively in the first half, although she did contribute eight effective assists. For the Gauchos, senior Ariana Gnekow made the most of being re-inserted into the starting lineup, going 2-2 from three for six of her season-high 10 points in the first.
“I was working on my shot this week because we talked about their defenses and how they were sagging on me,” Gnekow said. “So I thought if I hit some shots early that would give some other people better looks.”
Trailing by only six at the half, Santa Barbara would need to make a strong offensive statement coming out of the locker rooms, but instead it was a still red-hot visiting squad who did the damage. Long Beach opened the second stanza on an 18-7 tear, shooting 80 percent from the field during that span. UCSB, though they themselves shot 44.6 percent in the final half, simply could not keep up save an 11-0 run in the middle of the half to make a game out of it. Figueroa scored all 16 of her points in the second half for Long Beach, finishing with 10 assists for the game’s only double-double. It was the fourth time this season the Corona native had equaled her career high in single-game assists. Apart from Figueroa, three other 49ers joined her in double-digits with Sims leading all scorers at 22.
“[Figueroa] is terrific,” Gottlieb said. “I said coming in that she’s arguably the most dynamic point guard in the conference, but more so than that, she’s playing like a fifth-year senior … Everything goes through her. I think we did a really good job on her in the first half, and she kind of exploded in the second half.”
As for UCSB, sophomore guard Emilie Johnson again led her team in scoring with 17 points and five assists, while senior forward Jordan Franey chipped in 11 points and five rebounds. While the Gauchos only managed an abysmal 5-13 shooting from the charity stripe, for once they did not have to worry about turnovers. Averaging just over 27 giveaways over their first three conference matches, UCSB took care of the ball to the tune of only 15 turnovers, a positive they will need to continue for the rest of the year.
“[Turnovers] have been the thing that’s really, really hurt us,” said Gottlieb. “We talked about from a technical standpoint just working on our skills and cutting down on turnovers, and also just decision-making. I thought we did a better job of that tonight.”
After a brief stay at home, Santa Barbara hits the road for a date with UC Riverside this Saturday at 5 p.m.