Despite being swept in the season series, the UCSB women’s basketball team beat UC Irvine 61-51 and will head to the Honda Center to continue their quest for a Big West Championship.
“I’m excited for this team,” senior guard Emilie Johnson said. “I want nothing more than to see my team cut down nets.”
It was a true team effort, as the Gauchos went in as the underdogs, but as the sixth seed beat the third seed Anteaters. Five players had at least eight points. Sophomore guard Melissa Zornig led the team with 15 points and although Johnson shot just 1-10 from the field, she went 8-8 from the line and was critical in icing the game. Junior center Kirsten Tilleman and junior forward Sweets Underwood each finished with nine points and Underwood tallied nine boards.
“Emilie did such a great job of running the show, but it wasn’t the night for her shots to fall and we needed other players to step up,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said.
On the defensive end, UC Santa Barbara allowed the Anteaters just 51 points, a huge improvement from a season worst 72 in the last match-up.
“[Defense is] what wins us games,” Zornig said. We’re not going to beat teams by outscoring them. Our mindset is defense.”
However, it couldn’t have been a worse start for UC Santa Barbara, which threw the ball away in each of its first five possessions. The Gauchos didn’t score their first basket until over six minutes had gone by on a basket by freshman forward Jackie Luna-Castro.
“One hundred percent, it was a nightmare start,” Mitchell said. “I was like, ‘this is not the time for this to be happening.’”
After going down by double figures, UCSB finally woke up. Baskets by the two seniors, Johnson and Kelsey Adrian, sparked a 14-4 run. The Gauchos went into halftime down just two at 26-24.
“Because of my competitive nature, I just told them we’re going to win,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, we knew we were going to the Honda Center.”
Shortly after halftime, UCSB took its first lead. From there, it became the Zornig show. Zornig scored eight straight points for the Gauchos and consecutive baskets by sophomore guard Nicole Nesbit gave UCSB a 39-33 win with just over ten minutes to play.
“[Zornig] was in attack mode,” Mitchell said. We definitely needed another scoring option, but she did just as well a job on the defensive job as well.”
Freshman forward Methlyn Onomoguho responded with a 7-0 run of her own to give the Anteaters the lead, but consecutive baskets by Underwood and a critical three by Adrian extended the lead to four. That would be enough for UCSB to hang on and upset Irvine.
“The key was staying poised and composed,” Johnson said. “At this point in the season, it’s a mental game. We just have to stay focused and live in the moment.”
Senior guard Kassandra McCalister, who killed the Gauchos in the last two match-ups, was held to just five.
UCSB will play Pacific at the Honda Center on Friday.