The St. Mary’s women’s basketball team has never won a game in the Thunderdome and UCSB would like to keep it that way when it hosts the Gaels Saturday.
UCSB currently holds a 2-4 record while St. Mary’s enters the game at 4-2.
“It’s always important to win at home because road games are so tough,” senior guard Angelei Aguirre said. “You always want to make it count at home.”
Both teams have streaks on the line as the Gaels look to win their fourth consecutive game while the Gauchos try to keep a perfect 5-0 home record against St. Mary’s. UCSB will also attempt to rebound from a tough loss to USC.
“We need to earn our respect back and play harder and get back to the things that got us to the tournament last year, which was getting stops,” Aguirre said. “We didn’t do that against USC, so we need to get back to the defensive side of things. That’s our identity and at the end of the day, it’s [what] will win us games.”
UCSB comes off a 62-51 loss against the Trojans in which a bad first half put Santa Barbara in a deep hole, going down by as many as 18 points in the second half. With 1:19 remaining, the Gauchos completed a 13-1 run and made the deficit just six points, but ran out of time to complete the comeback.
“You’re at home; [consistency] shouldn’t even be a discussion,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We’re a veteran team … it’s inexcusable for us to not be prepared against a Pac-12 team that we knew what they were going to do. You know not every shot is going to go in, but I expected our team to compete and I didn’t feel we did that for the first 20 minutes.”
A major highlight of the game was the play of Aguirre, who tallied a career-high 13 points. Aguirre put the team on her back and scored 11 second half points. She is also second on the team in assists with 2.3 per game.
“Yeah I had a career-high, but it doesn’t mean anything because we didn’t win,” Aguirre said. “It’s my senior year and I want to go out winning Big West, and I want to build up our resume so we’re not playing Baylor again first round. So for me, these are the wins that we need.”
Consistency will be a key for UCSB against St. Mary’s. Last season, the Gauchos dominated the first half, outscoring the Gaels 35-14, but almost gave the game away by allowing 38 points in the second half. In the end, Santa Barbara prevailed 61- 52 and Mitchell earned her first victory as a head coach.
Junior guard Nicole Nesbit led UCSB with 15 points last year against the Gaels. This season, Nesbit leads the team in points per game with 11. The Gaels feature two big offensive threats in juniors Jackie Nared and Danielle Mauldin. Nared, a 6’1’’ guard, leads the team with 18.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Mauldin nearly averages a double-double with 12.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
“We’ll probably use some different bodies on [Nared] and I know we’ll have to go back to what we do best and that’s our man defense,” Mitchell said.
Senior center Kirsten Tilleman did not play against USC and is questionable for tomorrow’s game. As a result, the Gauchos could be without their leader and one of its top rebounders as Tilleman averages 7.4 boards per game.
“She brings so much to the table, not just rebounding,” Aguirre said. “She does so many things for us that people don’t even know because they don’t make the stat sheet.”
Without Tilleman, the entire team will need to focus on rebounding. The Gaels hit the boards, averaging 47.2 rebounds per game, nearly 16 rebounds more than the Gauchos.
In addition, while defense is always a focal point for the Gauchos as they lead the Big West in scoring defense at 53.5 points per game, UCSB has lived and breathed defense in practice this week, especially after a poor performance against USC in which the Trojans shot 56.2 percent from downtown.
“Today [Thursday] was an hour and 45 minutes of defense and rebounding, absolutely nothing else,” Mitchell said. “We went back and watched the entire clips of USC and the kids had to be embarrassed at the performance we had against USC in all facets of the game.”
St. Mary’s currently averages 68.4 points per game compared to UCSB’s 52.2 points per game, so the defense will need to be in full force for the Gauchos.
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. in the Thunderdome.