In their most complete game of the 2009-10 season, the UCSB women’s basketball team didn’t just pull an improbable 85-70 upset of central coast rival Cal Poly, but essentially beat them at their own game.
The Gauchos (11-16 overall, 8-7 in Big West), who came into the weekend contest with the Big West’s worst offense, turned in their highest point total of the season over the league’s best Saturday afternoon at the Thunderdome. The Mustangs (17-10, 10-5), while able to trade baskets early, were bulldozed in the end by a Santa Barbara squad that couldn’t miss, shooting 52.5 percent for the game. Adding fuel to the home team’s fire was the realization that for five seniors (Ariana Gnekow, Meagan Williams, Chris Spencer, Jordan Franey and Jessie Goble), Saturday’s date would be the last time any of them competed at the Thunderdome.
“We have been playing our best basketball as of late,” Head Coach Lindsey Gottlieb said. “We’ve won three in a row now. … We know that we’re playing for something important in terms of our own seeding [in the Big West Tournament].”
Having lost to the Mustangs 67-62 earlier in the year at Mott Gym, the conference’s #1 defense knew they would have to put the brakes on the league’s #1 offense and junior forward Kristina Santiago if they had any chance of upending the green and gold. Early on, the defense simply wasn’t there as Cal Poly opened the match on a 10-3 run capped by senior guard Brittany Lange’s trey. Slowly but surely, UCSB’s man-to-man began limiting outside shots, allowing the Gauchos to slowly chip away at the lead.
At the 10:05 mark, sophomore guard Emilie Johnson took the game into her own hands, sinking her third straight three to give the Gauchos their first advantage at 16-15. Santa Barbara gave up the lead on the next possession until they trailed 20-17 with 8:05 left in the first half. From there, it was all blue and gold as UCSB finished the first period on a 25-6 run for a 42-26 advantage. Johnson was lights out from the floor, posting 20 first-half points on 80 percent shooting, including going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. Johnson also distributed the ball well, finishing with a career-high eight assists.
“Coach [Gottlieb] has the X’s and O’s down to a tee,” Johnson said. “She put all of us in positions to score. It’s definitely a collective thing. I can’t do it without everyone else.”
Up 16 going into the second half, the Gauchos were able to answer almost every basket the Mustangs made and more, expanding their lead to 21 at one point. Santiago scored 14 of her 20 points in the second half, but simply could not overcome the deficit by herself. While Cal Poly did finish with three players in double figures, UCSB answered with four of their own, including 27 by Johnson (two short of her career-best).
Junior center Mekia Valentine, who was held to only four points and one rebound in her first encounter with the visitors, finished with 12 points and seven boards. The senior quintet of Franey, Williams, Spencer, Gnekow and Goble combined for 42 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks and seven assists. As a team, UCSB committed only 12 turnovers, a season low. The icing on the cake came with just over a minute to play, as the five seniors found themselves on the court at the same time, giving the Thunderdome one last salute.