Against a Fullerton team determined to get revenge for a 37-point loss earlier this season, UCSB women’s basketball narrowly escaped Titan Gym on Thursday night with its 73-70 victory. In the game’s closing seconds, Fullerton missed a three-pointer that would have sent the game into overtime, securing the victory for the Gauchos.
UCSB improves to 15-10 overall (9-4 Big West), while Fullerton falls to 8-18 (4-9 Big West) and into a tie for last place in the conference with the loss. Senior forward Mekia Valentine led UCSB to its 37th consecutive victory over Fullerton with 11 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“[Mekia] was tremendous,” Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “She asserted herself as one of the dominant rebounders in the league tonight. She controlled the game with her defense and rebounding throughout and shot the ball extremely well. Mekia really stepped up tonight.”
With the victory, UCSB improves its chances at catching Big West leader Cal Poly for the regular season crown. Last-place Northridge defeated the Mustangs 68-65, bringing UCSB within two games of the Mustangs.
Despite winning five of its last six, UCSB struggled in this one, having to deal with the physical play that the Titans brought all game.
“We didn’t handle their pressure as well as we could have,” Gottlieb admitted. “We were a little rattled in the first half. In the second half, we were able to calm down a bit, but we fell into their full court press late in the game.”
Junior guard Emilie Johnson — who led the Gauchos in scoring with 13 points while adding five rebounds — hit two free throws in the final minute of the game to give UCSB a three-point lead before a Fullerton miss that gave the Gauchos the win.
“We made some mental mistakes tonight,” Johnson said. “It was disappointing but sometimes we need to tough out a win like that. We will take this game and get better from it.”
Valentine recorded her 10th double-double of the season, good for second in the conference. She shot four of five from the field to lead UCSB.
“Mekia did a great job holding down the paint tonight,” Johnson said. “Personally I need to work on my on-ball defense, but Mekia was there to protect down low all game.”
“Fullerton came ready to go tonight,” Gottlieb added. “They have great offensive talent and we had to do everything in our power to get the win. This could have been a trap game, but we are happy we were able to escape.”
UCSB will next host nonconference opponent Seattle University at the Thunderdome on Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.