In Head Coach Carlene Mitchell’s two years at UCSB, the women’s basketball team has been known for its defense, but not exactly for its offense.
Sunday afternoon’s game showed that this year, things will be different.
UCSB’s new style was on full display in the team’s season opener, as the Gauchos ran to an easy 76-54 win over Occidental.
“We have to play to our team’s strength,” Mitchell said. “This year, when you’re undersized, you have to press and you have to get easy baskets. We can’t grind away like we did in the first two years. That’s not our team identity and personality this year. I like to score. When we can score and shut people down on the defensive end of things, we’ll be a pretty good team.”
The team that ranked last in the Big West last year in points per game, at 51.3, used a high-pace offense and the fast break to tie the second-highest point total during the Carlene Mitchell era, scoring 76 points. The new run-and-gun style led to easy buckets as Santa Barbara shot an incredible 50.8 percent from the field.
“We want to push the ball more because we feel like we’re conditioned,” sophomore forward Kendra Morrison said. “Our guards are stealing the ball higher up on the court, so it’s easier to get transition layups.”
Ironically, in UCSB’s first home game of the year, the Gauchos got off to an extremely slow start offensively, scoring just nine points in the first nine minutes of the game. However, once Santa Barbara caught fire, there was no looking back.
In typical Gaucho fashion, UCSB used its defense to fuel its offense. With just under eight minutes remaining, Santa Barbara’s full-court press resulted in a 10-second backcourt violation by Occidental. A minute later, a steal by freshman guard Onome Jemerigbe led to two free throws, sparking a 14-0 spurt by the Gauchos.
“Our defense got us pumped up,” sophomore guard Jasmine Ware, who tallied four steals, said. “There was a lot of intensity when we were pressing. It just really got us going and helped the flow of the offense as well.”
The Gauchos ended the half on a 22-8 run to take a comfortable 39-26 lead into halftime.
Despite having only nine players on the roster, UCSB showed no signs of tiring entering the second half as it continued to get out on the break and beat its opponent down the court. The Gauchos started the second half on a 17-2 run, led by senior guard Destini Mason, who scored eight of her career-high 16 points during the run.
With 11:31 to go, Santa Barbara held a 26-point lead, its largest of the game, scoring 55 points in the previous 20 minutes.
“Overall, I was extremely proud of the effort,” Mitchell said. “There were three- and four-minute spurts where we were really good.”
Three players finished in double-figures for UCSB. Along with Mason’s 16 points, Ware tallied a career-high 12 points. Leading the way offensively was senior guard Nicole Nesbit, who played a complete game with 17 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals.
“Nic’s growth has just been tremendous, from her sophomore year when she came off the bench, to last year leading the team from the point and in the scoring position,” Mitchell said. “Now, [she’s] being asked to score, lead, sometimes run the point, sometimes move to the two spot, and I think she’s also taken into heart to be a great defender.”
The Gauchos also won the assist category at 17-8 and out-rebounded the Tigers 43-26, a crucial element for an undersized Santa Barbara squad that wants to run.
UCSB will be back in action next Saturday when it completes a three-game home stand against Pac-12 opponent University of Arizona.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.