Gaucho basketball’s Nicole Nesbit, standing at barely 5’5” may not be the tallest girl on the court, but she is one of the toughest and most athletic guards this school has ever seen.

[media-credit name=”Tony Mastres/UCSB Photo Services” align=”alignleft” width=”130″][/media-credit]Nesbit, the backup point guard for UCSB, has already become a game-changer in her first year and has provided the Gauchos with consistently solid play.

“Nicole brings an entirely different element to our team,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of the freshman. “She has an explosiveness and an ability to get to the paint that not only helps her generate points, but also get looks for other people.”

Gottlieb noted that opposing teams struggle to come up with a game plan for Nesbit’s tough on-ball defense and athleticism.

“[Nicole] brings a ton of energy,” Gottlieb added. “At this level, to have someone that comes off the bench that can change the game is such a big advantage for us.”

Growing up, Nesbit was a dancer rather than a point guard, but once she was introduced to basketball as a nine-year-old, there was no looking back.

“The first time I went to a tryout, it felt like it fit,” Nesbit said. “I had so much fun. My parents told me that it took me a couple of days to take off my basketball shoes. I fell in love with the game.”

Nicole is always one of the smaller players on her teams, but that has not stopped her from finding success.

“I don’t think that size limits anything,” Nesbit said. “You just have to work a little bit harder or be a little tougher than the players you go up against.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the player who had the biggest influence on Nesbit growing up was former NBA all-star Allen Iverson. His small size and ability to attack the basket over larger defenders provided the guard with a source of inspiration.

With energy off the bench, Nesbit’s role on the team this year has constantly grown, progressing into an especially important one for the Gauchos.

“It’s been so fun to watch her grow this year,” junior guard Emilie Johnson said. “From the first game until now, she has learned so much and improved her game. I’m excited to see how that pays off in a year and how good we can be next year.”

Johnson has been a mentor to Nesbit, helping her to become more mature with her game. The influence goes the other way, too.

“Her play has definitely opened up my game,” Johnson said. “She draws so many defenders because she is so quick and that gives me an extra second to focus and make my shot.”

Throughout the season, Nesbit has proved that she is ready to go out and conquer any challenges thrown her way. Despite the struggles that come with adjusting to college, Nesbit has managed to excel, thanks largely to her family.

“I think they have been to every one of my games,” Nesbit said. “It’s a huge transition from high school, school-wise and basketball-wise. Having my parents here has been a huge help and I really appreciate them for that.”

Fellow UCSB players have helped Nesbit adjust to college as well, as Nesbit has grown incredibly close to her teammates.

“Our team is like one big happy family,” Nesbit said. “Being with the team is my most exciting time of the day. When we leave practice, we miss each other.”

In particular, Nesbit has grown close to fellow freshman guard Melissa Zornig.

“We are really tight off the court and I think I am closest with her,” Zornig said. “I’m really excited to be able to play with her over the next three years.”

Along with the rest of the team, Nesbit has one goal in mind for the 2011 season.

“As far as basketball, winning the state championship in high school was my biggest accomplishment,” Nesbit said. “That was one of the proudest moments of my life, and that’s why I want a Big West championship, because I would be on that stage on a different level and with different people.”

Nesbit and UCSB host UC Irvine tonight at the Thunderdome, with a scheduled tip-off of 7 p.m.