To win a championship, a team needs players who step up in big moments. For the UCSB women’s basketball team this past season, Kelsey Adrian was one of those players.
“Kelsey’s always had a reputation as a clutch shooter and she steps up big at the end of the season,” senior guard Emilie Johnson said. “To win a championship, you have to have all the pieces to the puzzle and Kelsey was a big piece.”
One of Adrian’s big moments came early in the season against one of the Gauchos’ toughest opponents: Washington. Coming off the bench, the senior forward shot 4-6 from behind the arc. In 18 minutes, she tallied 14 points, 38 percent of the Gauchos’ game total. Subsequently, Adrian’s role as a bench player was done.
Although her effort wasn’t enough to carry the Gauchos over Washington as the team lost 46-37, Adrian emerged as the team’s premier three-point shooter.
“When Kelsey can get her feet set, she’s a deadly shooter,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “That [game] showed us that when she gets hot and she shoots with confidence, she’s able to hit any three available to her.”
Over the course of the season, the Langley, British Columbia native averaged 1.5 threes per game, shooting 36.4 percent from downtown. Not only were both numbers team bests, but they ranked Adrian sixth in the Big West.
“Kelsey represented a ‘pro-type’ guard because she’s right at six feet,” Mitchell said. “It was easier for us to get her a shot because she’s got a quick release and because of her size.”
In 62 games at UCSB after transferring from Cal, Adrian’s name is now found in the record books for total three-pointers. She finished with 100, good enough for seventh all-time.
“[Kelsey’s] been my go-to player,” Johnson said. “As a point guard, you have to have that shooter, and she was that player for me. I always knew where she was on the court because she’d be ready to knock down the big shot.”
Another monumental game for Adrian took place on the road against Cal State Northridge, in which UCSB won 71-67 in double overtime, proving that the Gauchos could contend with the best in the league. Prior to the game, Mitchell challenged both seniors to set the tone for their team.
“What I wanted Kelsey to realize is that she’s not just a shooter,” Mitchell said. “I wanted her to be a scorer. Kelsey needed to find a way to score, whether it be rebound put backs, posting up or getting to free throw line.”
Adrian responded with 17 points, tying her career high. She shot 7-13 from the field, including 3-6 from three-point land and tallied eight rebounds. Adrian’s stats weren’t just big; she made the big plays too. She hit a critical three that eventually brought the game to overtime and came up with a steal at the end to clinch the game.
“In that game, I knew I needed to do more for the team for us to win,” Adrian said. “I tried to be more aggressive and I think that showed.”
A little over a month later, Adrian topped her career-tying offensive performance. Defeating UC Davis on the road 60-56 in a game which gave the team momentum heading into the playoffs, Adrian tallied a career-high 21 points. She shot 7-13 from the field and 4-8 from behind the arc.
“Since I had been at UCSB, I hadn’t beat Davis,” Adrian said. “I was not going to go out in the last game, last time playing Davis, and [lose].”
Adrian’s impact wasn’t only on the offensive end. In many games, Adrian defended the opposition’s best shooter. Against Davis, Adrian was given the task of guarding the smaller Hannah Stephens, who scored 16 points, including four threes, in the first matchup. The second time around, Adrian held Stephens to just five points.
“Kelsey’s length creates a problem [for opponents] and she doesn’t have to guard [them] as close as Emilie or Nicole,” Mitchell said.
Then, in the playoffs, Adrian made the needed plays. In the second half of the first-round matchup against UC Irvine, a late charge and trey from Adrian helped clinch the 61-51 victory.
“It’s funny because everyone asks me [if I like taking the big shots,] but during the game, I’m not thinking about it,” Adrian said. “When you’re in the middle of the game, it’s just another shot, which works for me because I’m not thinking about the time and pressure.”
Then, Adrian hit another crucial three in the championship. After going down 40-41, she put a dagger into Long Beach with a three that gave UCSB a lead with 7:20 remaining, which was never relinquished.
“Some players shy away from late game [opportunities], but when you put in the time, that’s why you play the game,” Mitchell said. “She has that killer instinct. We wanted somebody taking those shots that has ice in their veins and that’s Kelsey.”
Adrian tallied just six points in the game, but her impact was felt far beyond the box score.
“She didn’t even have to score a point,” Mitchell said. “Her steady play and calmness … she’s been there before and everyone fed off of that.”
In fact, personal stats were never the priority for Adrian. It was always about the team. While her numbers were down this season, averaging 6.6 points this year compared to 9.2 last season the team accomplishments were far superior. For Adrian, a championship was the best way to leave her mark on the Gauchos’ program.
“Kelsey’s impact goes beyond [the numbers],” Johnson said. “It makes me really happy when she puts up those huge games on the stat sheet, but she doesn’t care whether she has two points or 20. For her, all that matters is the win.”