It’s been a busy, tiring week for the UCSB women’s basketball team.

Playing in their third game in the past six days tonight against Northern Arizona, the Gauchos try to finish this portion of the schedule strong before the team takes a 10-day break.

“We just can’t have a drop off, and I don’t think we will, coming back home to play,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “We’ve played a lot of games in a short period of time and with finals coming up, we’re going to challenge our kids to stay focused.”

A wearing schedule, five of Santa Barbara’s seven games have been decided in the final minutes. UCSB has gone 3-2 in those games.

Tuesday night on the road at Pepperdine was no exception as UCSB overcame a 14-point first-half deficit to earn the 77-69 victory and the team’s second consecutive road win.

“It was good for us to finally find ways to win. That’s going to be big for us because we do have a bit of inexperience on this team and as we continue to do that it will really help us,” senior guard Nicole Nesbit said. “We just battled. We had a tough first half and we could have quit after that, but we kept at it and knew what we had to do to pull that win out.”

For the second straight game, Nesbit set a new career high, totaling 26 points on 8-15 shooting. This season, she averages 18.6 points per game and has been extremely efficient, shooting 47.9 percent from the field, including 51.9 percent from behind the three-point line.

All three seniors have been critical for the Gauchos this season with senior guard Destini Mason averaging 15.9 points and a team-leading 6.7 rebounds per game and senior guard Melissa Zornig averaging 12.6 points and a team-high 3.6 assists per contest.

Nevertheless, with the seniors pulling their weight, Mitchell was waiting for one more player to step up. Against Pepperdine, Santa Barbara received that bench production, with junior guard Kristine Brance giving eight second-half points and five rebounds and sophomore guard Jasmine Ware tallying six points and providing plenty of defensive pressure. This allowed Mitchell to give her seniors a few extra minutes of rest, which is crucial with so many games in such a small period of time.

“[Tuesday] we were able to trust Kris, Jasmine and [freshman forward Mi’Chael Wright] to give us at least 10 or 15 minutes and produce while they were out there, so I think that was instrumental,” Mitchell said. “It’s critical any time you can get Nic, Mel and Destini to be around the 30-minute mark. That only helps their production and will help us down the road as far as their legs and how many minutes we may need them to play down the stretch.”

Santa Barbara returns home tonight with a 4-3 overall record. NAU, meanwhile, comes to the Thunderdome with a 1-2 mark.

While the Lumberjacks are a balanced team, they should be a good matchup for the Gauchos as NAU lacks the height UCSB has seen in its last few games.

“They’re a good team,” Nesbit said. “They don’t have as much size as we’ve seen in the past, but they have thicker guards that are going to be more physical and I’m sure will try to post us up. We’re going to see a bit of a different team than we have in the past.”

Senior guard Amanda Frost anchors Northern Arizona’s offense, averaging 21.7 points per game. In the team’s most recent victory over Utah Valley, Frost went off for 30 points.

Another key matchup for UCSB will be junior forward Erikka Banks, who grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds in the team’s win. On the year, she averages a double-double with 10.3 points and 12.7 boards.

“Banks is an interesting match-up because she’s 6’0’’, but she’s really a guard averaging 13 rebounds a game. She’s just a competitor,” Mitchell said. “Frost I would probably relate to Mel. She can shoot it, she can put it on the floor, and then around the basket she has euro step throughs, so she scores in a variety of ways.”

Therefore, rebounding will be important for UCSB tomorrow A statistic that consistently predicts the result on the scoreboard, the Gauchos average 38.2 rebounds when they win compared to 25.3 boards when they lose.

The other key factor for Santa Barbara will be turnovers. This season, UCSB averages an impressive 12.6 giveaways per game. On the other hand, the Gauchos would like to take advantage of the Lumberjacks’ turnovers as Northern Arizona has struggled with throwing the ball away, averaging 20 per game in its three games so far.

“We’re making less mental mistakes,” Nesbit said. “Being aggressive, the turnovers we can live with are the ones in transition where you try to make something happen, but I think we’re starting to limit the unforced turnovers that happen for no reason. We’re playing a bit smarter and that’s something that’s really valuable for us right now.”

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.


A version of this article appeared on page 9 of December 5, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.

Photo by Shaminder Dhindsa of The Daily Nexus.