The UCSB women’s basketball team fell short in the end of a wire-to-wire contest in the Thunderdome Thursday night.
Fresno State got the best of the Gauchos, making enough free-throws down the stretch to secure the 64-57 victory, snapping its four-game losing streak.
UCSB, without redshirt senior forward Drew Edelman, lost the paint battle. The Gauchos were outrebounded by Fresno St. 45-32 and outscored in the paint 28-18. Following its loss to the Bulldogs, UCSB has lost its last six games straight. Overall, Santa Barbara sits at 1-6, while Fresno St. improved to 2-4.
Santa Barbara got off to another rough start, beginning the game shooting a cold 3-for-15 from the field. While the Gauchos used a variety of lineups to try to generate some offense, the Bulldogs used a hot start from freshman forward Maddi Utti to go up 20-7 with 1:14 left in the quarter.
Utti scored 10 of her game-high 20 points in the first quarter. She ended up shooting 9-for-10 from the field and pulled down eight boards for the Bulldogs.
As Fresno St. pressured the Gauchos much of the game using a full-court press, the Santa Barbara offense was disrupted.
Freshman guard Sarah Bates, who ended the game with 11 points, explained her team’s early struggles.
“Honestly the pressure wasn’t that amazing. I freaked out with the ball sometimes and then once we got comfortable we realized there’s teams who play way better defense than that,” I said. “They’re not any better than we are, we’re just making mistakes. So it’s not necessarily the pressure it’s just us [needing to be] comfortable on offense, slowing down and making the right plays.”
With roughly a minute to go, the Gauchos bounced back from their cold start as senior forward Chaya Durr knocked down two free throws to get things rolling. Then, sophomore guard Aliceah Hernandez and senior guard Makala Roper hit two threes, Roper’s at the buzzer, to end the first period with an 8-0 run. UCSB found itself behind the Bulldogs 20-15.
Despite managing to play from behind and cut the deficit, Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson was unhappy with her team’s performance early, and stressed the importance of starting games with the right attitude.
“We’ve got to have a better start, obviously, and better energy, and better discipline on the defensive end. This team’s got to grow where they get some energy from the defensive end,” Henrickson said. “I think we get really excited when we make threes. I don’t think we get really excited from a stop. We’ve got to be more aggressive in the passing lanes, more aggressive on the ball.”
With the second quarter underway, the Gauchos’ offensive struggles returned as they did not score until the 6:53 mark.
Redshirt junior guard Sarah Porter came off the bench to drain two threes to tie the game at 23 apiece with 4:20 remaining. Porter, one of only three Gauchos in double digit scoring, contributed 12 points off the bench. The Bulldogs answered with a 9-3 run to close out the quarter, ending the half up 32-26.
The Gauchos seemed to settle down during halftime, coming out with a more focused energy to start the third.
After going down 40-31 with roughly four minutes to go, the Gauchos went on an 11-4 run to close out the quarter and cut the Bulldog lead to two. Santa Barbara used three pointers from Aliceah Hernandez, Sarah Porter and Sarah Bates plus a five-point quarter from Durr for its run. Durr scored a team-high 16 points and pulled down a team-high six boards.
“We finally settled down. But there’s no reason for us to be down at home right away,” Henrickson said.
Down 44-42 to start the fourth, Durr scored on a nice drive to the basket to tie the game at 44. Although the Gauchos shot below 40 percent from the free-throw line, beyond the arc and overall, they took their first lead of the night with 7:26 left in the game.
Hernandez gave her team the lead off a made three-ball, but it would be Santa Barbara’s only lead of the game.
The Bulldogs pulled ahead again with 5:21 remaining to take a 52-50. Santa Barbara’s defense had a hard time stopping Candice White and Maddi Utti in the final minutes. White and Utti scored eight and six in the period, respectively, to pull Fresno St. ahead 60-54 with 46 seconds to go. White, a junior guard, ended the game with 19 points and a game-high 11 boards.
Following a UCSB timeout, Hernandez came off a screen to quickly drain a three, but with only 39 seconds left, the Gauchos were forced to foul.
Up 60-57, the Bulldogs missed two free throws but got the ball back on a long rebound, forcing Santa Barbara to foul again. The Gauchos couldn’t get any other desperation threes to fall, losing the game by a final score of 64-57.
After the game, Coach Henrickson addressed her team’s performance on both ends of the floor.
“We don’t have everybody on the same page, right now, defensively,” she said. “I love our confidence, but our discipline is ridiculous. We’ve got to develop more discipline. We’ve got to play the right way, there’s a purpose to what we’re trying to do.”
With the Gauchos losing their sixth straight, there are obvious improvements that need to be made so that Santa Barbara can play with more consistency rather than having to catch up.
“We had a really good practice [Wednesday] so we’re waiting for this to transition from practice to consistency in a game,” Henrickson said. “Everybody’s disappointed, not discouraged. I still believe we’ve got a chance.”
The Gauchos will have a chance to bounce back when they visit No. 7 UCLA on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 1:30 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion.