After opening conference play 3-0, the Gauchos lost a close game to UC Irvine on Saturday night, 77-74. Santa Barbara’s four-game win streak was effectively snapped by the Anteaters as Irvine outscored the Gauchos by 9 points in the second half to take the victory. UCSB now sits at 6-10 overall and second in Big West standings at 3-1.

UC Davis, the only Big West team undefeated in conference play, will visit the Thunderdome this Thursday in a meeting of the early Big West frontrunners. Despite losing their first conference game this year to UC Davis, the Anteaters have won two straight to stand at third place in the Big West and 10-7 overall. 

Saturday’s contest saw the return of guard Drea Toler, who was not with the team during the extent of fall quarter.

Toler, a redshirt senior, averaged roughly 10 points per game last year to go along with 4.6 assists. Against Irvine, Toler did a bit of everything for the Gauchos, recording 9 points, 5 assists, and 5 boards.

The first quarter of play found Santa Barbara and Irvine both struggling to efficiently find the net, shooting a combined 11 for 34 from the field. While the Gauchos also went 1-6 from beyond the arc in the first, Drew Edelman went to work in the paint, scoring 9 of her team-high 18 points in the decently-even quarter. Morgan Green got to the line with 11 seconds left to knock down two free throws to put Irvine behind 17-18 heading into the second. 

In the second, Drew Toler scored 7 of her 9 points as Santa Barbara held the Anteaters to just 14 points. The Gauchos went on a scoring drought that last over three minutes, but threes by Tal Sahar and Toler towards the end of the first half extended their lead to 37-31.

 In the third, it was Irvine making the push, as the Anteaters held Santa Barbara to 14 points and closed out the quarter on an 8-0 run thanks to Morgan Green and Lauren Saiki.

Green and Saiki each scored 8 points in the third. Green finished the night with a game-high 25 points and 6 rebounds. The run by the Anteaters gave Irvine a 53-51 lead going into the final 10 minutes of play.

 In a high-scoring fourth quarter, Irvine outscored the Gauchos 24-23 to complete the comeback effort. Although UCSB closed out the game with their last 12 points coming from three pointers, the Anteaters managed to make all 8 of their free throws in the fourth to keep in front of Santa Barbara.

Yazzy Sa’Dullah knocked down two from the line with 18 seconds left to put the Anteaters up 6. Sarah Porter managed to hit a three with 2 seconds remaining as part of her 8-point quarter, but it was too late for the Gauchos. 

Losing only by 3 points, Santa Barbara has to be disappointed, but the continual growth of the Gauchos this season is perhaps a silver lining head coach Bonnie Henrickson can find in this game.

The Gauchos matched the Anteaters in many aspects and even held the advantage in the paint as well as in terms of bench production. UCSB outscored Irvine 28-22 down low and got 26 points from its bench, but the difference in the game seemed to be free-throws.

While the Anteaters managed to go 18 for 23 from the charity stripe, the Gauchos only made 8 of their 15 free throws. Santa Barbara with its 23 personal fouls committed marks a season-high for the Gauchos. 

Despite giving Irvine 18 points from free-throws, UCSB’s offense has now scored 70 points or higher in 5 of its last 6 games.

Drew Edelman with another double-double is almost averaging one with 14 ppg and 9.4 rebounds per game. As Santa Barbara’s offense is rolling, the Gauchos will likely work on their defensive game-plan this week before playing Thursday in an effort to cut down on fouls.

As the Gauchos work Drea Toler back into games, Santa Barbara will aim to get back on track at home against UC Davis on Thursday, January 18.