Despite ending the regular season on a five-game winning streak, including Saturday’s 80-75 success over nonconference foe Cal State Bakersfield, the UCSB women’s basketball team fell to the fifth seed in the upcoming Big West Tournament due to Long Beach State’s upset over UC Riverside.
The Gauchos (13-16 overall, 9-7 in the Big West) will now need to win all four of their possible conference tourney bouts if they intend to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.
“We would have liked the first-round bye, but right now we have the attitude of doing whatever it takes to win,” senior guard Chris Spencer said. “Whether it’s three games or four games, we’re going to do whatever it takes.”
Before they could think about possible seeds and match-ups, Santa Barbara visited a Roadrunner squad (16-12) they had already pasted by 28 points at the Thunderdome earlier this year. The Gauchos looked to jump on Bakersfield early and did so, opening the contest on a 12-4 run before the home team knew what hit it. Bakersfield cut that deficit to as little as four in the early minutes before Santa Barbara reeled off seven more unanswered. That 21-10 lead didn’t last long either as a bevy of turnovers gave CSUB opportunities to close the gap. The Roadrunners did so mostly from behind the arc, going 6-16 in the first half to tie the game on two separate occasions. Only a last-second bucket by Spencer enabled UCSB to head into intermission on top 38-36.
The back and forth continued in the second half until the Gauchos began asserting themselves on the boards, contributing to their 48-28 rebound advantage. Two free-throws by junior center Mekia Valentine put Santa Barbara up 50-42 with 12:04 remaining, but too much time was left for Bakersfield guard Phynique Allen. Allen scored 24 of her career-high 32 points in the second period, almost single-handedly keeping the Gauchos within striking distance, going 11-26 from the floor and 4-9 from deep.
“[Allen] just had a really good game,” Spencer said. “She just shot the lights out from three. We needed to get a better rotation going on her, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do.”
Santa Barbara was able to answer Bakersfield’s guard play with stellar performances from their own ball-handlers. In her final regular-season game, senior guard Ariana Gnekow turned in career highs for points and rebounds with 13 in each category, along with a pair of assists and a steal. Spencer and fellow senior guard Meagan Williams combined for 26 points and 10 rebounds, while sophomore guard Emilie Johnson finished with a team-high 18. All this plus Valentine’s 14 and 21 slowed down the home team down the stretch to close out the 80-75 victory.
“[Bakersfield]’s a better team than they were last time,” Spencer said, “but so are we. I think we were one of the few teams that swept them this year. We didn’t come in expecting to blow them out again.”
With the regular season behind them, UCSB moves on to the Big West Tournament starting this Wednesday at the Anaheim Convention Center where they will play eighth-seeded Pacific, a team they’ve trounced by double-digits twice this year. A victory would earn them a date with the fourth-seeded 49ers in the second round.