There will be no miracle run and no Big West Championship
for the UCSB women’s basketball team this year. A 62-43 loss to Cal
Poly yesterday in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament not
only dashed any hopes of becoming back-to-back conference
champions, but also ended the Gauchos’ season. “I don’t like
losing. I don’t care what the name is on the jersey,” Head Coach
Carlene Mitchell said. “In the program I’m associated with, you
expect to win every time you step on the court. All I can go off of
in my second year here is that last year I was sitting up here on
this podium with a lot better feeling than I am right now.” Santa
Barbara finished the year at 16-16 overall, going 11-7 in
conference play. The Mustangs improved to 20-10 and will play for
the tournament championship today. The loss is the third straight
to Cal Poly this year for UCSB. This also marks the first time that
the Gauchos have lost to the Mustangs during the postseason. “The
record may not indicate the growth that we had and the competitive
spirit we had throughout the year, but I’m extremely proud,”
Mitchell said. “This was a group that I was excited to go to
practice with every day and step on the court and go to battle
with.” In every matchup, UCSB was unable to find an answer for 6-5
Molly Schlemer. Although the Gauchos were able to hold the junior
center to six points in the first half, Schlemer went off for 20 in
the second half. “She’s the Big West Player of the Year and we knew
they were going to go into her,” senior center Kirsten Tilleman
said. “There’s only so much we can do and I think we did play very,
very good defense against her. A player like that’s going to get
her shots.” While the final score might not reflect it, UCSB got
off to a great start. The best defensive team in the Big West held
the Mustangs to 0-8 shooting to start the game, including 0-6 from
three-point range. “Defense is our identity, so we came out with a
lot of energy, trying to not give them their easy points that
they’ve gotten in the past,” senior guard Angelei Aguirre said.
“That was our mindset – take away what they like to do.” Aguirre,
who has played extremely well against Cal Poly this season,
averaging 11 points in the two matchups, caught fire early, scoring
Santa Barbara’s first two baskets. Then, Tilleman, last year’s Big
West Tournament MVP, got in on the action, knocking down two
straight baskets of her own to give the Gauchos an 8-2 lead. “I
just try do what I need to do,” Aguirre said. “I try to be
aggressive and take open shots. We knew we had to be the aggressors
from the beginning, so I think all of us had that mindset.”
However, Cal Poly was never out of the game and drained
back-to-back threes to take a 12-10 lead. The score remained close
the remainder of the half and the Mustangs eventually took a 22-19
lead into halftime. After starting the game 0-8, the Mustangs shot
9-16 for 56.3 percent the rest of the half. UCSB, meanwhile, was
taking good shots, but was unable to convert shots it would usually
make, shooting just 30.4 percent from the field. “I thought the
kids competed extremely well in the first half and shots didn’t
fall,” Mitchell said. “We got a lot of wide open looks and
sometimes you can only play the pressure defense for so long and
then you have to get a point here or there to be able to keep that
up.” Cal Poly went to its Big West Player of the Year to start the
second half and Schlemer answered the call, scoring four straight
points and sparking a 13-2 run to put SB in a 12 point hole. The
Gauchos didn’t help their cause though, turning the ball over six
times and going 1-7 in first seven and a half minutes of play. “You
try to full front [Schlemer] and they’ll lob over the top,”
Mitchell said. “You try to play behind her and double and they have
blue-collar players that can knock down the 15 foot jumper.” As
time went on, Santa Barbara continued to fall part as it could do
no better than just trade baskets with Cal Poly. The deficit
continued to grow and became too much to overcome. Despite holding
Cal Poly to 22 points in the first half, the Mustangs unleashed
their potent offense in the second half, scoring 40 points compared
to UCSB’s 24. Overall, Cal Poly shot 43.8 percent from the field
and outscored the Gauchos 22-12 in the paint. Defensively, Cal Poly
limited UCSB’s leading scorer, senior forward Sweets Underwood, to
just four points, nearly eight below her average. For the Gauchos,
junior guard Nicole Nesbit paced the team offensively, scoring 11
points, all of which came in the second half. Aguirre also
contributed 11 points while Tilleman added 10 rebounds in the
defeat. “I don’t think we can ever be satisfied with not getting to
the NCAA Tournament, but it’s also not about just this one game,”
Tilleman said. “It’s about the journey we took as a team and the 32
games that we played. So, I’m not satisfied, but I feel that we
learned a lot this season and I’m going to take a lot from playing
with these people and playing for this program.” The game marked
the last time playing in a Gaucho uniform for seniors Aguirre,
Tilleman and Underwood. While they leave the program with a Big
West Championship from last year, they know that the UCSB women’s
basketball team is about winning. Next year’s objective for Santa
Barbara will be no different – continue the Gaucho tradition.
  This article is an online exclusive and did
not appear in the print edition of the Daily