“We just need to get a win,” senior guard Ariana Gnekow said after UCSB was clubbed 78-63 by Long Beach State last week. “We’ll do whatever we can to make that happen.”
Unfortunately, Santa Barbara (5-12 overall, 2-3 Big West) will have to wait another week for that win after longtime conference rival UC Riverside capitalized on a huge second half en route to a 77-60 win in Riverside last Saturday. The Highlanders (5-12, 2-2), who like the Gauchos are in rebuilding mode after losing five key seniors to graduation, shot 67 percent from behind the arc in the second stanza to turn a three-point halftime lead into a 17-point blowout.
“I’m not fooled at all by their record,” Head Coach Lindsey Gottlieb said. “You look at their roster and they have talent across the board, and they pose match-up problems with four of their five starters over six feet.”
As most of their conference games have gone as of late, UCSB opened the contest with one of their better halves of the year. The Gauchos shot 50 percent from the floor and went 4-7 from downtown, all the while limiting their turnovers to an impressive five. The problem was, UCR took care of the ball and shot just as well as Santa Barbara, shooting 52 percent for the first half. Both teams were primarily led by two scorers in the first, with sophomore guard Emilie Johnson and junior center Mekia Valentine combining for 22 of the Gaucho’s 35 points while senior forward Amber Cox and junior guard Alyssa Morris combined for 26 of the Highlander’s 38.
UCSB took their first and only lead of the game when Johnson sunk a three to break a 30-30 tie with 2:58 before halftime. The two teams would trade baskets until, with four seconds left, junior forward Rhaya Neabors drilled a trey to capture the game’s momentum in UCR’s favor.
The momentum carried over to the second half as Riverside began to fire on all cylinders both offensively and defensively. The Highlanders opened the second half on a 10-2 run while forcing five consecutive UCSB turnovers — the total amount they committed in the first half — before the Gauchos made a basket at the 16:38 mark. UCR simply took off from there, outscoring the visitors 39-25 along with forcing 11 second-half giveaways. Santa Barbara went 0-6 from three after going 57 percent from the perimeter in the previous half despite senior guard Meagan Williams finishing with a team-high 18 points on 8-14 shooting. Riverside had all five starters score in double figures with Morris posting a game-high 21.
UCSB stays on the road for their next two games to visit conference leaders in Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly before returning home on Jan. 30 to face Cal State Northridge at 2 p.m.