When it mattered most, the UCSB women’s basketball team came up with the victory.
With a 59-50 win over Long Beach State, the Gauchos solidified the fourth seed and earned a first round bye going into the Big West Tournament next week.
“It’s not rocket science that you don’t want to play four games in five days, that’s easy, but we’re always going to take the approach one game at a time,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We play Saturday and you want to win at home.”
Santa Barbara improves to 10-7 in conference and 14-15 overall while the 49ers drop to 8-9 in league and 15-14 on the year.
“It was a very workmanlike, blue-collar day,” Mitchell said. We were very efficient in the stats that we know we have to be efficient in coming down the home stretch.”
The Gauchos got off to a shaky start, going down 17-10 as they struggled to handle LBSU’s trapping zone defense. However, with just under six minutes left in the half, UCSB found its stride, going on a 10-2 run that allowed the team to head into halftime down just four at 26-22.
The momentum continued to sway Santa Barbara’s way to start the second half. A three from junior guard Melissa Zornig capped off a 13-3 run and gave UCSB a five point lead, which would never be relinquished.
“In the first half, they changed defenses a lot, so we had to get used to it and in the second, we started to take it out faster and push the ball more,” junior guard Destini Mason said. “We got more stops on defense and once we got stops, we get out and run.”
With a first round bye on the line and less than nine minutes remaining in the game, Long Beach made its final push, going on a 9-2 run spurred by the 49ers leading scorer and sophomore guard Alex Sanchez which narrowed UCSB’s lead to two at 42-40.
However, that’s when senior center Kirsten Tilleman scored her first basket, sparking a 17-10 run to end the game. The Gauchos got out in transition, finding easy looks down the stretch.
“When we can get stops and get out in transition, it makes us a lot better team, especially when they’re changing defenses,” Mitchell said. “It’s easier when you can push it and you don’t have to worry about what defense they’re in.”
Per usual for UCSB, the team’s tenacious defense was a huge key to the victory, especially in the second half. The Gauchos held the 49ers to 26.1 percent shooting in the final period and with 10 steals on the afternoon, forced 15 Long Beach turnovers.
UCSB’s solid second half defense led to a 37-point half as the team shot 50 percent from the field and tallied nine assists on its 13 field goals in the second half. Overall, UCSB shot 43.4 percent and recorded just nine turnovers.
“We’re a defense first team and when we play good fundamental defense that we work on every day, that will lead to our offense,” junior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “I think once we focused and were in the right position at the right time, that’s what led to the run we made.”
The offensive production came from a multitude of players as three Gauchos finished in double figures. Senior guard Angelei Aguirre tied her career-high with 13 points on 6-10 shooting while senior forward Sweets Underwood tallied her 12th double-double of the season with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Nesbit finished with 12 points, including 6-6 from the line, and a career-tying eight assists. Finally, both Mason and Zornig recorded nine points and Tilleman grabbed seven rebounds.
“Players scored in a lot of different ways, whether it was at the free throw line with Nic and Sweets or Destini gave us the energy in transition,” Mitchell said. “It’s always critical that you have three players in double figures.”
UCSB has now won two straight games and will look to continue its momentum Saturday in its final game of the regular season. Against UC Irvine, the Gauchos will also have a chance to win back-to-back games at home for the first time this season.
While nothing will be on the line standings-wise, UCSB knows the importance of taking momentum into the Big West Tournament next week. Not to mention, the team would like to send seniors Aguirre, Tilleman and Underwood, who will all be honored before the game, out with a win in their final game in the Thunderdome.
“We’ve been a little bit of a roller coaster this year and if you go to the point we were at last year, we were losing by 30 points today at Pacific and then rebounded and beat Davis and never looked back,” Mitchell said. “To be at home, this is where we should be taking care of business. We have one more and I think our team has seen throughout the year the different [situations]. Against LMU, we put up 80 points and we’ve held great teams to 40 points, so we’ve seen everything, we know our abilities and we just have to take care of us at this point.”
Tip-off Saturday is set for 2 p.m.