All season long, the UCSB women’s basketball team has said its defense fuels its offense.
That was certainly the case last night as the Gauchos edged out UC Davis on the road, 60-52.
With the victory, Santa Barbara improves to 10-12 overall and 6-4 in the Big West. The Aggies, however, drop to 4-6 in conference and 9-12 overall.
“It was a gritty win,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We had to buckle down and make stops late in the game when they went on a run and we were struggling on the offensive end of things. Any time you win on the road, you have to be satisfied with that even though we know it wasn’t a pretty 40 minutes.”
Offensively, UCSB took advantage from the high post, breaking down Davis’ trapping defense. Senior forward Sweets Underwood and senior guard Angelei Aguirre both played the elbow spot, combining for 27 points.
“I think a lot of our hits were in the high post and that’s something that we really worked on — that high-post shot, whether it was high low or short corner — the ball has to go in and out and I think we did an awesome job rotating the ball in and out,” Underwood said. “That’s how Lei and I were able to get some open looks.”
The Gauchos started the game hot on the offensive end, using 66.7 percent shooting to put together a 13-4 run and take an early 23-12 lead.
“I think we just executed offensively, which got us open shots,” Aguirre said. “We were able to take our time and knock them down.”
However, the Aggies returned the favor as they went on an 8-0 run of their own to get within three points. That’s when UCSB picked up its defense, which sparked a 6-0 run as the Gauchos finished the half with a 31-24 lead.
Playing well from the opening tip has been a crucial key for Santa Barbara as the team is now 9-1 when leading at the half.
“You always want to go into halftime feeling good about yourselves and then come out with even more energy, so that first half lead was very critical for us,” Underwood said.
Coming out of the locker rooms, sophomore forward Sydnee Fipps found her stride offensively, scoring 10 of the Aggies first 14 points of the half to get her team back in the game. Fipps finished with a game-high 16 points.
“[Fipps is] a great player,” Mitchell said. “She has an attack mentality and we have to do a better job of guarding off the dribble.”
The Gauchos also suffered from a six-minute scoring drought in the middle of the second half, caused by unforced turnovers, allowing the Aggies to go on a 9-2 run and close the gap to one point at 44-43. On the night, UCSB turned the ball over 22 times compared to 16 for Davis.
“We made a lot of critical mistakes offensively, turning the ball over, when we didn’t need to,” Underwood said. “They executed off of our turnovers, so it was us beating up on ourselves.”
The game remained close throughout the rest of the half and Davis once again cut the lead to one with 2:58 remaining.
Nevertheless, UCSB persevered. Senior center Kirsten Tilleman knocked down two free throws to make the score 54-51 with just over a minute to go. Out of a timeout, Davis managed to get off a three-point shot, but UCSB was able to earn the stop, allowing junior guard Nicole Nesbit to ice the game at the free throw line hitting both attempts.
“We just focused on defense,” Aguirre said. “They’re a systems team, so we knew what they’re running, and so we just had to focus and not make any mental mistakes.”
Overall, Santa Barbara outrebounded the Aggies 34-24 and outshot Davis 47.8 percent to 34.7 percent.
The Gauchos had extremely balanced scoring on the night as well with three players finishing in double figures. Nesbit tallied 13 points and five assists on the night while Aguirre contributed 12 points and five rebounds.
Underwood led the Gauchos with 15 points and 12 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the season. Finally, Tilleman posted a solid night, finishing with eight points and seven boards, and junior guard Melissa Zornig scored eight points, including two critical threes down the stretch.
“I was proud of our team that we were able to buckle down and win a close game and be able to execute and hit shots and most importantly, get stops when it counted,” Mitchell said.
UCSB continues its road trip north against Big West leader Pacific this Saturday.