It won’t count for the record, but the UCSB women’s basketball team earned a 52-39 exhibition win over Vanguard in its first game of the 2012-13 season
The Gauchos looked solid for playing its first game of the year, shooting 43.4 percent from the field, almost double that of the Lions’ 22.4 percent. Santa Barbara also doubled up on Vanguard in assists, tallying 16 compared to the Lions’ eight
“I think [the offense] worked pretty well tonight,” junior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “I think we have to give a lot to Mel. She got into the gaps and allowed a lot of us to spot up.
Nesbit led the Gauchos offensively with 17 points and four assists on 11-17 shooting. Senior forward Sweets Underwood also contributed a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Junior guard Melissa Zornig tallied nine points and six assists as well
“[Underwood and Nesbit] did a great job,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “They continue to grow and that’s what we need them to do as upperclassmen.”
Squaring off against the Lions in an exhibition match for the second consecutive year, the five starters for the Gauchos were returning players, including three starters from last year’s squad: Nesbit, Zornig, senior guard Destini Mason, Underwood and senior center Kirsten Tilleman.
The starting five picked up where they left off at the end of last season when they won the Big West Championship, jumping out to a quick 15-0 lead.
“Those first 10 minutes were as close to perfect as we’ve played,” Mitchell said. “It probably took us three or four games in the regular season to even see minor glimpses of that [last year].”
The quick start came as a result of UCSB’s tenacious defense. Santa Barbara held Vanguard to 14-0 shooting to start the game and did not allow the Lions to score until the 10:17 mark.
“That’s what we’re known for: the defensive side of things,” Mitchell said. “That’s what we expect from our kids. That’s our mindset.”
Despite the team’s dreadful 16.1 percent shooting in the first half, Esther Timmermans tallied eight of the Lions first-half points, as the Gauchos took a 25-13 lead into halftime.
Junior point guard Nicole Ballestero single-handedly rallied her team back in the second half, scoring the first seven points to bring the score to 25-20.
“We started switching every screen and role, so I don’t know if there were communication mistakes, and some of it was our transition defense,” Mitchell said.
A layup by Zornig snapped Vanguard’s streak and sparked an 8-0 run to give Santa Barbara a 33-20 lead, an advantage that would not drop below eight points the rest of the way.
If there was one major weakness for the Gauchos, it was their turnovers. They tallied 18 on the night, although it was the first time the team has played together.
“If you go in our locker room, the number I told them tonight that would be acceptable was 18 [turnovers],” Mitchell said. “This was our first game and if you tell the kids they can have 18 to 20 turnovers, sometimes they’ll push it more without being worried about making a mistake.”
UCSB begins regular season play Friday at UNLV.