In a one-point decision, it’s easy to point fingers at all the different factors that could have changed the outcome.
It would be easy to blame UCSB’s poor shooting in the first half as it shot a dismal 28 percent from the field, resulting in a 17-point halftime deficit.
It would be even easier to shoulder the guilt on Head Coach Carlene Mitchell for picking up her first technical foul of her career with 65 seconds to go in the game. In a one point game, those two points make a big difference.
Or maybe you even fault freshman point guard Onome Jemerigbe for missing the final shot at the buzzer.
But in sports, there is never one cause for a loss. Despite an incredible second-half comeback, the fact of the matter remains that the UCSB women’s basketball team lost 58-57 to UC Davis in the first round of the Big West Tournament tonight and its season is done.
“I’m extremely proud of this team,” Mitchell said. “That was not an 8-22 team that just ended those last 20 minutes.”
All season long, the thorn in Santa Barbara’s side has been consistency. 20 minutes of solid basketball isn’t enough and it came back to bite the eighth-seed Gauchos.
After starting the game 3-7 from the field, UCSB began settling for too many jumpers against the Aggies’ zone defense. With the score tied at nine, Davis went on a 12-0 run, which was extended to 19 points with less than a minute to go before halftime. After its solid start, Santa Barbara shot just 5-23 the rest of the half.
“100 percent [it was a matter of settling for too many jumpers],” Mitchell said. “I think once one or two didn’t fall, they continued to show that we could get in a flow with the jumpers.”
Coming out of the locker rooms down 35-18, the Gauchos mounted a comeback. Led by the three seniors, guards Nicole Nesbit, Melissa Zornig and Destini Mason, the lead was chopped to four points with 13:10 to go.
“It were no x’s and o’s (at halftime),” Mitchell said. “I just told them that actions speak louder than words. You can look in people’s eyes sometimes and know whether they’re going to come back out and battle or whether they’re ready to call it quits. Not once this year have these guys ever given in.”
Play on both ends of the floor was nearly flawless. While UCSB has struggled this season defensively at times, any team under Mitchell prides itself on its defense. Using its press, Santa Barbara forced the Aggies into 11 second-half turnovers, which resulted in 24 points on the other end. In total, the Gauchos held UCD to 23 points in the final 20 minutes.
“Our focus is always defense,” Zornig said. “Coach Mitch told us not to worry about the scoring and just to focus on the defense. In the second half, we came out with so much energy. We pressed them and trapped them and caused them to force turnovers. Our defense got us back in the game.”
The Gauchos were also aided by the fact that sophomore forward Alyson Doherty went down with an injury approximately midway through the second half. She was unable to return after posting 14 points.
On the offensive end, UCSB tallied 39 second-half points, shooting a phenomenal 60.7 percent from the field by attacking and getting to the rim. All season long, the seniors have put the team on their backs, but they took the saying to a new level last night, totaling every single point Santa Barbara scored in the second half.
Zornig led the team with 21 points on 9-15 shooting while Mason added 16 points on 8-13 shooting. Nesbit also contributed 16 points.
“We’ve been talking about how it’s March Madness. It’s one and done,” Nesbit said. “Unfortunately, it took us until the second half to get that run going, but we knew that if we didn’t give it all we had, we’d be going home.”
With just under two minutes to play, Davis’ lead had been sliced to one at 56-55 by a layup from Mason in transition.
“[It] was a really exciting basketball game,” UC Davis Head Coach Jennifer Gross said. “I thought we came our tremendously in the first half with great energy, executed offensively and played some of the best defense we’ve played this year, but we knew Santa Barbara wasn’t going away. They have tremendous players. I wasn’t surprised when they got it going.”
However, with 65 seconds left, Zornig was called for an offensive foul. Mitchell, a coach not known for jabbing at the referees, immediately headed toward the nearest official. She was immediately given a technical foul, which resulted in two free throws for Davis on the other end, both of which were converted.
“I’m disappointed for the seniors that they had to go out this way. I’ve already apologized to them,” Mitchell said. “It’s something I can’t take back; I can’t give them another game. Would we have won? I don’t know. I think at some point, you want the players to know you have their back and I just voiced it too loud in a critical moment in the game.”
Rather than trying to tie the game with a three, Nesbit attacked, making a layup to bring the game within one once again at 58-57. On the other end, Santa Barbara earned the stop it needed defensively, causing a 30 second shot clock violation on Davis, but that left UCSB with just 4.0 seconds.
Needing to go the length of the court, the Gauchos found their quickest player, Jemerigbe. In the short amount of time remaining, Jemerigbe was able to get all the way to the right elbow before she was forced to throw up the runner. It bounced off the back of the iron, sending UCSB home.
“They did a good job trying to deny Nic and Mel,” Mitchell said. “We were trying to get it across half court and [run] a quick play. It is what it is and it’s never the last play that wins or loses the game.”
Santa Barbara ends its season at 8-22 overall and 3-14 in Big West play. UC Davis, meanwhile, improves to 15-15 overall and will play UC Irvine in the quarterfinals tomorrow.
“I can’t say enough about their players. Their seniors in particular were exceptional tonight,” Gross said. “We beat a very, very good basketball team tonight. The records don’t show a whole lot in our conference. Whether you have three or ten losses, every game is a battle. We knew regardless of record, we were playing a tough team today.”
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.