After a horrible loss to Cal State Fullerton Thursday that broke a 40-game winning streak, the UCSB women’s basketball team responded in dominating fashion Saturday, defeating UC Riverside 62-42.
The Gauchos not only proved they can play in the face of adversity, but avenged a 45-42 home loss to the Highlanders one month ago. Santa Barbara remains in fourth place in the Big West, improving to 9-7 in conference and 13-15 overall. The Highlanders drop to 4-12 in league and 11-16 overall.
“We knew that they got us at our place, a game that we definitely should not have lost,” junior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “It was senior night for them, so we knew they’d come out fired up and we had to be as fired up, if not more, and bring some energy.”
In the team’s final regular season road game of the year, UCSB came out ready to play. Using 13-3 and 9-0 runs, the Gauchos doubled up on Riverside 28-14 and eventually took a 32-17 lead into halftime.
“Coming off a bad game, we came out this afternoon with a chip on our shoulder, knowing that we had to come out fired up because the effort we came out with [against Fullerton] was unacceptable,” Nesbit said.
Offensively, UCSB shot an incredible 53.6 percent from the field in the first half, compared to 25 percent from Riverside.
“We just pushed. We didn’t think about anything,” senior guard Destini Mason said. “We didn’t run plays; it was just transition. We were attacking and had a lot of points in the paint, so I think that’s what led to the win.”
While in the past, the Gauchos have often started the second half complacent when they have held large leads and have watched their advantage disappear, UCSB continued to keep its foot on the gas, extending its lead to as many as 21 points with 14:13 remaining.
“[At halftime], I just challenged them that it was zero to zero,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “I wanted them to understand that when you get a team down and you’re on their court, [you have to] to put them away and the upperclassmen accepted that challenge. Even when UCR made a couple runs, you could see the look on their face like ‘we’re not going to let this happen again.’”
Overall, UCSB outshot Riverside 46.7 to 35.6 percent and outscored the Highlanders 30-14 in the paint.
Santa Barbara featured three players in double figures with junior guard Melissa Zornig and Mason each tallying 10, but it was Nesbit who had the hot hand for UCSB, scoring 20 points, which ties her career-high. Nesbit also finished with three assists and four steals.
“She has the ability to score points on any given night,” Mitchell said. “But for me, the importance was that she got after it on the defensive end of things and controlled the tempo with her calmness on the ball.”
Mason also stood out for UCSB, starting for the Gauchos and recording a double-double. Along with her 10 points, she grabbed 12 rebounds, breaking her previous career-high of 10.
“I just felt real free today,” Mason said. “It was fun and I’m glad I could do it in front of my family. My focus was going after everything.”
Defensively, the Gauchos held the Highlanders to 35.6 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers, compared to just 10 for UCSB. Santa Barbara also outrebounded Riverside 36-27.
Santa Barbara’s 11 steals is the most ever during Mitchell’s reign.
“I’m satisfied with the way our kids recovered after a disappointing loss,” Mitchell said. “They came out extremely focused and competitive, so overall, I’m satisfied with our play and of course, the outcome.”
Next week, UCSB returns home for its final games of the regular season, hosting Long Beach State and UC Irvine.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of March 4st, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.