The UCSB women’s basketball team embarks on its first road trip of the season today, travelling north to take on St. Mary’s.
The Gauchos enter the game with a 1-1 overall record while the Gaels seek to stay perfect, as the experienced squad holds a 3-0 record.
“They’re a good team,” senior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “They’ve played good competition. They have some veterans that lead them and they’re talented. It’s always fun going up against good competition, so we’re excited.”
Last Saturday, Santa Barbara dropped its first game of the year, losing to Arizona, a Pac-12 school, by just two points.
“We know we could’ve beat them,” senior guard Destini Mason said. “We have to learn from those mistakes, like the rebounding, but it does give us a boost of confidence. We know we’re at and that we can hang with the Pac-12. It’s just a conference.”
The most critical error for UCSB was in the rebounding column. The Wildcats outrebounded the Gauchos 40-32, including 24-14 in the second half, grabbing critical offensive rebounds that gave Arizona extra opportunities.
“It was different players at different phases of the game and two or three of them were at the free throw line,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “That’s a lack of focus and a lack of discipline. I think our kids will write it across their chests to not let those same mistakes happen.”
Against top competition, UCSB continued to see consistent production from its three seniors. On the season, Nesbit leads the team, averaging 17.5 points, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Mason has tallied 13 points and 5.0 rebounds per game and senior guard Melissa Zornig has added 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest.
“[The seniors are] above and beyond expectations,” Mitchell said. “In year number three, I can communicate with them on a different level. With Nic, Mel and Destini, they’ve been ultimate leaders and a pleasure.”
For the first time this season, the Gauchos will have to deal with a very tall team. While the average height for Santa Barbara is 5’9’’, the Gaels measure in at an average height of 5’11’’. The defense will especially be tested as starting center senior Carli Rosenthal is 6’3’’.
St. Mary’s also features taller guards, headlined by senior guard Jackie Nared. At 6’1’’, Nared is averaging an incredible 23.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists, shooting 53.2 percent from the field, including 46.7 percent from behind the arc.
“The taller guards have been a thorn in our back,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully, we can keep [Nared] out of rhythm and we’ve been doing a better job of pressing this year, so hopefully we can make them speed it up more than their used to and then we don’t have to guard them in the half court.”
As an offensively minded team, the Gaels have four players averaging double-figures and have tallied 84.3 points in their first three games.
“They’re tough. They put up 90 [points] just about every night and probably the one stat to me that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of coaching is 50 free throw attempts against Butler on the road,” Mitchell said. “That just tells me they have an attack mentality. It’s not going to be a finesse game. It’s going to be attack the paint and attack the boards. We’ll definitely have our hands full.”
Even as a team that likes to push the ball, UCSB has averaged 63.5 points per game. In the season opener, Santa Barbara put 76 points on the scoreboard, tying the second most in the Carlene Mitchell era.
“We know what we’re capable of on the defensive end. Defense is going to be the main game plan,” Nesbit said. “I think for us, we’ve been scoring more than the past couple seasons, so we know we’re going to get them to play our game and speed it up and see if they can hang with us.”
Tip off tonight is set for 6 p.m. at McKeon Pavilion.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of November 21st’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Margarita Baliyan of the Daily Nexus.