Pac-12 schools have earned impressive reputations in the sports world. A conference known for its superior athletics, the ability to compete with a Pac-12 school is a big confidence booster.
Despite falling to Arizona on Saturday, 51-49, the tight defeat that went down to the wire proved the UCSB women’s basketball team could be competitive against talented opponents.
“We don’t really see a jersey. Every day we come out there, we’re playing against ourselves,” senior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “It was tough because we were with them the whole game and even had a lead at one point that we gave up, so that’s something that’s going to stick in our minds and it’s going to be tough replaying this game over and over again.”
With just less than a minute remaining in the game, Nesbit brought the ball up court and drove all the way to the rim for a layup, tying the game at 49 with 40 seconds to go. The basket increased Nesbit’s point total to 18, which led all Gauchos.
“We knew that we had an advantage getting to the rim,” Nesbit said. “I saw a lane and I took it.”
Down on the other end, freshman forward LaBrittney Jones received the basketball on the right block. As she went up for the shot, she earned the foul call and hit both free throws to give the Wildcats a two-point advantage.
Arizona ran the clock down to 6.8 seconds by fouling the Gauchos with remaining fouls to give. On the inbounds, senior guard Melissa Zornig got into the lane, but was quickly trapped. She was able to get a shot off, but the highly-contested shot wouldn’t fall, leading to Santa Barbara’s first loss of the season.
“I am a competitor and a sore loser, but as a head coach I am extremely proud of the effort,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “The effort was there. There was no doubt about it.”
While the contest went down to the final buzzer, the game was not ultimately decided in the final minutes, but rather earlier in the second half.
The Gauchos put the Wildcats in the penalty with 8:15 remaining, leading to 15 free throw attempts down the stretch. On the game, Arizona shot 19 free throws compared to just six for UCSB.
“We know the new rule change and we have to make the adjustment. The players have to understand that [the refs] are going to call the hand checks,” Mitchell said. “Arizona was more aggressive attacking the paint. I think at times, we settled for too many jumpers. In our first two games, I think we shot 19 and 21 free throws, so that’s definitely the difference in the game.”
Also critical in the loss was the rebounding margin. Santa Barbara was outrebounded 40-32, including 24-14 in the second half. Twice when the Wildcats headed to the charity stripe, the Gauchos didn’t box out, giving Arizona extra scoring opportunities and erasing the seven point lead UCSB had earned to begin the second half.
“We probably went a little smaller in the second half. When that happens, we should know we can’t out jump them,” Mitchell said. “You have to make an effort to block out. I think we started trying to tip the ball to ourselves. You can’t do that against stronger athletes.”
The loss drops Santa Barbara to 1-1 on the season while Arizona earned its first win of the season, improving to 1-2.
“There are so many things that we could control that would have led to a different outcome,” Mitchell said. “We have to hold ourselves accountable. Give Arizona all the credit in the world. They found a way to win on our court after two overtime losses, but if we could go back and exchange about three or four possessions, that final score would’ve been a little different.”
Leading the Wildcats on the offensive end was redshirt junior guard Candice Warthen, who totaled 18 points and three assists on the afternoon.
Nevertheless, UCSB held Warthen below her season average of 21.5 points and 6.5 assists. Taking the defensive assignment on Warthen was freshman guard Onome Jemerigbe, who, in her first start as a Gaucho, totaled seven points, three assists and two steals.
“[Jemerigbe] brings so much,” Nesbit said. “Her defensive intensity when she comes in, we seem to step it up to another level. We get excited because she’s picking people up 94 feet [from the basket] and she’s pressuring and you can tell their offensive players do not like it.”
The Gauchos continued to receive consistent production from their seniors. Along with Nesbit, Zornig tallied eight points, six rebounds and a team-high five assists. Senior guard Destini Mason also added 10 points.
Next week, UCSB will take its first road trip of the season, traveling north to play St. Mary’s on Thursday.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of November 18, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Shaminder Dhindsa of The Daily Nexus.