Despite another slow start offensively, the UCSB women’s basketball team came alive in the third quarter, outscoring Long Beach State 17-5 to claim the 51-44 victory. The Gauchos have now won their last three games and with Thursday night’s win over the 49ers Santa Barbara is 1-0 in conference play, improving their overall record to 4-9. While UCSB is rolling compared to the start of the season, the 49ers are pushed to a dismal 2-13 overall as they open league play with their sixth straight loss.
A rematch of last year’s Big West Championship, in which Long Beach got the best of the Gauchos, Thursday night’s game opened with an energy in the Thunderdome signaling the return of conference-play atmosphere. The 49ers pressured Santa Barbara using a 3-2 zone along with a full-court press disrupting the Gauchos’ offense early. Shots weren’t falling easily for either team and the Gauchos had a difficult time keeping possession, turning the ball over 7 times in the first quarter alone.
For nearly the first seven minutes of play, UCSB had only 3 points off a Drew Edelman free throw and a jumper by Danae Miller. The defensive battle had the score locked at 5-3 Long Beach before Makala Roper knocked down a three for the Gauchos with 3:38 remaining. A few back and forth buckets closed out the quarter 12-12.
Head coach Bonnie Henrickson said following the game, “Sometimes you’ve got to be able to handle that this might one of those nights, it might be in the forties and fifties and you’ve got to be comfortable doing that,” said Henrickson, “You’ve got to be able to play through that and still win in the fifties.”
Makala Roper got things going for Santa Barbara in the second quarter, draining her second three ball of the night to put the Gauchos ahead 15-12. Long Beach responded by going on an 8-0 run, forcing head coach Bonnie Henrickson to call a quick timeout with roughly 6:04 remaining. Out of the 30-second timeout, the Gauchos went inside to find Edelman in back to back possessions for two easy buckets. Edelman asserted herself in the paint throughout the game, getting good position as well as good looks at the basket, but had a hard time getting shots to fall. The redshirt senior did have a career night rebounding the ball, grabbing 23 boards while just missing a double-double with 9 points. Roper kept heating up, making another shot from beyond the arc to put the Gauchos down a single point heading into halftime 22-23.
The first half of play featured both squads struggling to find the net, as UCSB and Long Beach each shot close to 31 percent overall and 27 percent from three-point territory. Edelman had 13 of her final 23 rebounds at half, but UCSB also committed 13 turnovers in the half.
In spite of their rough start shooting, the Gauchos came out after halftime with a re-focused energy on both ends of the court. Santa Barbara opened the third on a 9-0 run, holding the 49ers scoreless for almost 5 minutes. UCSB went on to score 17 total points in the quarter, with Sarah Bates, Sarah Porter and again Roper chipping in a three-pointer each. Roper’s three came at the buzzer to lift the Gauchos to a 39-28 advantage after three quarters of play. The 49ers had a rough quarter to say the least, going 1-10 from the field, 0-4 from three, and 3-10 from the charity stripe.
Makala Roper made another three to kick off the fourth quarter for her game and season-high 15 points, all from beyond the arc. Long Beach guard Shanijah Davison got to the line on the following possession, converting 1 of 2 free throws. The freshman Davison had a difficult night, shooting only 1-10 from the field and finishing the game with 4 points. Heading into the game, Davison was the 49ers’ leading scorer with 11.9 points per game. 49er Cecily Wilson knocked down 1 of 2 shots from the line shortly after Davison, but the Gauchos answered with an Akilah Jennings three to take their largest lead of the night, up 15, with 8:50 remaining.
Down 45-30 with just 8:50 left, 49ers refused to back off as Long Beach upped their defensive pressure to disrupt the Gauchos. After Akilah jennings made a nice move to the basket for a bucket at the 6:51 mark, the Gauchos failed to make another shot aside from free throws. Long Beach used their defensive stops to generate offense, going on a 10-0 run over the next 6 minutes to cut Santa Barbara’s lead to 3. Cecily Wilson had 7 of her team-high 9 points in the fourth to go with her team-high 10 rebounds. Down 47-44 with 53 seconds left, Long Beach mistakenly fouled Sarah Bates, sending her to the line where she knocked down the two free throws. Sloppy play and a variety of weird calls by the referees found the 49ers forced to send Bates to the line again with only 3 seconds to go. Bates came up clutch at the line again, hitting both shots to give the Gauchos the 51-44 victory.
After the game, the freshman guard Bates discussed her team’s improved play in the third quarter. “I think we got a little more used to the pressure, but we were still struggling with it. It was our offense more than their defense, even though they’re a good defensive team,” said Bates.
Following the Gauchos’ 1-9 start in the regular season, the Gauchos finally have momentum and a growing identity when they play. “I mean it’s a lot better than being 1-9,” said Drew Edelman, “We have a little bit more confidence going in. Especially now that it’s conference play, we said, ‘Ok whatever our record was preseason ultimately it doesn’t matter, it’s all about conference.’”
With a big game against rival Cal Poly on Saturday, Santa Barbara is hoping to carry its energy further into conference play. “It was a process, we’ve learned from it. So now, new season, we’re 1 and 0,” continued Edelman.
Head coach Bonnie Henrickson is looking to continue her team’s growth this season, as beating the now 2-13 49ers is not as daunting as a task as beating Cal Poly. “So, we’re fortunate to find a way to win, but that locker room is mature enough to know we weren’t very good and we’ve got to be better on Saturday, and we’ll get a chance to be better on Saturday,” said Henrickson, “And we’re mature enough to recognize that.
UCSB takes on Cal Poly for the Blue-Green rivalry game Saturday afternoon, with tip-off scheduled for 2:00pm.