Posting a smooth 12-point win over a team you’ve beaten 34 times in a row usually isn’t cause for much jubilation, but for the UC Santa Barbara women’s basketball team this past Saturday, it was. Finally able to scratch a win, the embattled Gauchos (9-16 overall, 6-7 in Big West) set a new school record for blocked shots in a single game (15) en route to a cozy 55-43 denial of Cal State Fullerton (12-16, 6-7) at the Thunderdome before 1,347 onlookers. With the win, UCSB moves into sole possession of fifth place in the Big West by virtue of tiebreakers over the Titans.

“It was a much needed win,” senior Ariana Gnekow said. “It was nice to get a clean win with no overtimes or last-second shots … a win that helps with our standing and our confidence as a team.”

Having played Fullerton to a 60-59 double overtime win in late January, UCSB was determined to avoid late-game heroics this time around by virtue of a fast start. Bolstered by five of senior guard Chris Spencer’s game-high 16 points, the home team ran out to a 14-5 advantage by the 12:15 mark before the Titans turned a nine-point deficit into a 20-20 tie with a 15-6 run of their own. Deadlocked with 3:28 remaining before intermission, Santa Barbara scored the last six points of the half — four by junior forward Margaret Johnson — to lead 26-20 going into the break.

While CSUF’s Megan Richardson led all scorers with eight points on 40 percent shooting after one half, the same success could not be said of the sophomore guard’s supporting cast. UCSB’s defense backed up their second-ranked conference standing, limiting Fullerton as a team to only 25.7 percent shooting from the floor, securing six of their record-breaking 15 in the first. Senior guard Meagan Williams was everywhere in the opening period with six points, two rebounds, three assists and a block.

The two teams traded buckets out of halftime, and then Fullerton cut the deficit to as little as four with 6:42 gone, but the Titans simply could not solve the tenacious trapping defense of UCSB, shooting 22.9 percent in the second for a game field goal percentage of 24.3. Santa Barbara fared little better in the second half, posting only a 27.3 success rate, but made baskets when it counted, outscoring the Titans 24-15 for the remainder of the contest.

“Our defense really saved us,” Gnekow said. “We came in really fired up and didn’t break down as much as we had in the games before.”

Richardson led the way offensively for CSUF, finishing with 13 points, but also with seven of the team’s 14 turnovers. For Santa Barbara, Spencer again made her case for a starting role with 11 points, three rebounds and only two turnovers in 14 second-half minutes. Three different Gauchos contributed two or more swats to the record-setting effort, with junior center Mekia Valentine characteristically leading the way with nine along with her game-high 17 rebounds.

As for the boards, Santa Barbara won that battle 49-46 despite giving up a 20-14 offensive rebounding edge to their opponents. Turnovers, while not eliminated, did not put the game in danger for the home team, as the blue and gold committed only 18, 3.5 below their league-high average. UCSB finally solved their free-throw woes, at least for a game, going 17-24 (71 percent) as a team from the line.

The Gauchos head to Northridge this Wednesday for a possible Big West Tournament preview against the Matadors before returning home next Saturday for Senior Day and a date with rival Cal Poly at 2 p.m. As always, admission for students is free.