After a 33-point loss to Riverside back in January, it is safe to say the UCSB women’s basketball team has improved greatly. On Saturday, the Gauchos hosted the same Riverside team, handily winning 59-37 and shutting them down with a stout defense.

[media-credit id=16616 align=”alignleft” width=”177″][/media-credit]UCSB’s record now stands at 14-10 overall (8-4 Big West), while Riverside falls to 13-10 and 6-4. Senior forward Mekia Valentine led the Gauchos with 13 points and 18 rebounds, while the team received strong play from the bench.

“Riverside is incredibly athletic and incredibly tough,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “But I think we showed tonight that we don’t need to back down to anybody.”

The Gauchos held Riverside to 23 percent shooting, forcing them to take 22 of their 52 shots from beyond the three-point line.

“As far as regular season wins go, this has to be up there as one of the best in a while,” Gottlieb said. “We had a struggle down there and to be able to come back and beat them today speaks to the commitment and the way the team sticks together.”

Sophomore forward Sweets Underwood and freshman guard Nicole Nesbit scored 15 points each on the night. Underwood added nine rebounds.

Gottlieb said Nesbit played like a veteran guard against Riverside this time around.

“I’m definitely getting more confident,” Nesbit said. “I have a lot more to learn, but I feel more comfortable than I did in the beginning of the season.”

Nesbit played a large role at the end of the first half, when she hit a buzzer- beating three-pointer to send the Gauchos into halftime with momentum and a 13-point lead. She also had to deal with the continuous pressure Riverside put on the guards.

“We learned from the last time we played Riverside,” Nesbit said. “We knew in order to get things going, we just had to handle [the pressure]. It became second nature to direct and handle it.”

After averaging 24 points the past three games, junior guard Emilie Johnson scored 10 points and had a game-high four assists.

As a team, the Gauchos out-rebounded the Highlanders 50-28 and limited them to only one second-chance point.

“We had a really good run and have learned to talk to one another and always bring the energy,” Valentine said. “That is the key factor for us, if we bring the energy, everything will follow suit.”

With the victory, UCSB is now in second place in the Big West behind conference leader Cal Poly. Riverside is in third place behind the Gauchos with Davis a close fourth.

Gottlieb stated that she wanted to see her team perform better against Riverside, and she was happy with the results.

“My message to them is we wanted to have more pride,” Gottlieb said. “We had to be better and they worked hard to get there. [Tonight] was a response to the way they wanted to represent the Gauchos, but we are also a much better basketball team than we were then.”

UCSB will next travel to Fullerton on Thursday, Feb. 17. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.