Coming off a disappointing 67-62 loss at rival Cal Poly last Thursday, the UCSB women’s basketball kicked off their four-game homestand in convincing fashion, taking care of conference doormat Cal State Northridge 69-55 Saturday at the Thunderdome. The Gauchos (7-13 overall, 4-4 in Big West) capitalized on a career-high 14 points in 13 minutes off the bench from senior guard Chris Spencer to handle a Matador squad (3-16, 1-7) that has now lost eight of its last nine.
“[Spencer] is absolutely capable of those stats each game,” senior forward Jordan Franey said. “I think she’s one of the hardest workers on the team, and she always seems to come up big for us when we need her.”
With the Cal Poly loss still fresh in their minds, UCSB took no chances in the early on, keeping a hot-shooting CSUN side in check while giving up the lead only once. Spencer went 2-2 from three and scored 10 of her 14 points in the opening half, keying a Gaucho run that had them up 30-21 with 5:12remaining. Northridge was able to secure the last five points of the half to cut the deficit to four at intermission, an artifact of their 55 percent first half shooting. Both teams shot identical 42.9 percent from downtown and each grabbed 13 rebounds, leaving the Wisconsin transfer as the only differentiator.
“[Spencer] gave us some really good minutes,” senior guard Ariana Gnekow said. “She just played really well. That’s what I love about our team is that we’ve got that depth… she hit those threes that really changed the game. She had a lot of great passes and really did a great job.”
With an established outside threat in Spencer and sophomore guard Emilie Johnson, who contributed a trey in the first, UCSB then looked to expose Northridge inside, riding junior center Mekia Valentine the rest of the way. Valentine exploded for 14 second-half points, finishing with 18 and 10 rebounds for her team-leading fifth double-double of season. In a record that after her nonconference performance seemed inevitable, Valentine notched her 70th block this year, breaking Lindsay Taylor’s program record for block in a season.
“It’s great having [Valentine] in the paint because she’s just a calming source on defense,” said Franey. “We all know that if our player beats us we have her to help us out. She has absolutely earned every block she has ever gotten.”
The Gauchos controlled the offensive glass all game long, outrebounding the Matadors under their own basket 12-3 for the game. Senior guard Meagan Williams did her part to keep CSUN from triple-teaming Valentine in the post, finishing with 11 points and a pair of assists. Considering Santa Barbara made only 13 of their 27 second-half free-throws (48 percent), the 14 point win could have been much more spacious.
“We’ve had a lot of close games this year,” said Gnekow,” and it’s come down to possessions. We just really needed a good win. A good, solid team win and that’s what we got against Northridge.”
UCSB continues their four-game homestand with Pacific on Thursday, a team they beat 65-58 in Stockton earlier this season. As always, admission for students is free.