The UCSB women’s basketball team officially begins its 2013-14 season Sunday with its home opener against Occidental.

Playing with just five returners from last year’s squad, the Gauchos will look to take advantage of playing in the Thunderdome as Santa Barbara’s first two games of the year will be at home.

“I always have a great time playing at home,” senior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “I know we struggled a bit last year, but that year’s over. I think it’s really fun playing in front of our fans and family, so I’m excited it’s at home.”

In UCSB’s exhibition game Monday, the Gauchos lost to Vanguard in an exhibition match-up for the first time in three years, falling 69-66.

It took 35 minutes for Santa Barbara to shake the rust. After going down by 16 in the second half, UCSB finally found its stride and was able to tie the game with less than two minutes to go. However, the comeback effort wasn’t enough.

“Overall I felt pretty good about [the game]” Nesbit said. “I think we did some good things. Unfortunately, and this is something we struggled with last year, we couldn’t put two halves together. We were two completely different teams in the first half and second half and once we learn how to put those halves together we’re going to be pretty good.”

One of those positive elements was the Gauchos’ offense as they did receive offensive contributions from everyone on the roster, with Nesbit leading the way with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

“At first it was like ‘oh my god we just lost,’” senior guard Destini Mason said. “But after really thinking about it and seeing how young we are, I started to see more positive things. I think we’re a better offensive team than we were last year.”

Nesbit is one of three seniors this season that highlight the Gaucho squad. Senior guard Melissa Zornig, who was also in double-figures Monday with 13 points, led the team last year in three point percentage at 32.5 percent. And Mason serves as the versatile defensive stopper for UCSB.

“With me, Mel and Dest, we all lead, but we lead in different ways,” Nesbit said. “We all have very different personalities so us coming together and understanding what we want out of ourselves as well as out of our team, it’s going to be really good because there are different dynamics.”

The focus for Santa Barbara this weekend will be defense after allowing Vanguard to shoot 49.0 percent from the field. A team typically known for their tenacious defense, last season the Gauchos held their opponents to just 52.4 points per game, the best in the Big West.

“It comes down to defense,” Nesbit said. “With Vanguard, we were bad one on one. That’s something we’ve worked on this week in practice and it’s going to be key throughout the year because we’re fast and we need to use that to our advantage. We need to be disciplined on that end of the floor.”

As for the opponent, this will be Occidental’s first game of the year. The Tigers lost their star to graduation last season in forward Makenzie Brandon, who averaged 21.7 points per game.

Of the returners, the leading scorer from last year is senior forward Elizabeth Messick . Messick averaged 10.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game last season and at 6’3’’ could be a problem against a shorter UCSB squad.

“We don’t see an opponent’s jersey,” Nesbit said. “It’s always about being the best player you can be and the best team we can be. Once you get that in your mind, no one is going to be able to stop you.”

Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. at the Thunderdome.


This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.

Photo by Shaminder Dhindsa of the Daily Nexus