The UCSB women’s basketball team opened up its season with a bang on Tuesday afternoon with a dominant wire-to-wire win over Utah Valley. The Gauchos never trailed during the 59-51 victory and were able to get key contributions from freshman players playing in their first official game.
UCSB jumped out to a 17-2 lead early in the first quarter, with much of the run riding on the back of freshman center Ila Lane. The Bay Area native is a workhorse in the paint for the Gauchos, using her 6’4” frame to clear space and knock in a few early layups.
“The most impressive thing is how good Ila was,” Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson said after the game. “How much confidence she had and how much confidence we had around her … [Utah Valley] was giving up buckets at the rim because they wouldn’t leave Ila. For a freshman big to be that aggressive and good early, it’s [a] good sign for us.”
Another first-year player that made an impact right away was guard Johnni Gonzalez, who was tasked with running the offense as the point guard when she entered the game with 4:24 to go in the first quarter. Gonzalez got her first assist as a Gaucho just one minute later when she passed to a wide-open Megan Ormiston, a jumper who put UCSB up 19-10 with just three minutes to play in the period.
The Wolverines would end the first quarter only down by nine points after a solid 10-4 run, but the Gauchos didn’t take their foot off the gas pedal for too long as their lead ballooned to double-digits in the second quarter. Although Utah Valley actually shot a better percentage from the field in the second period, UCSB’s volume of shots was far greater due to the team’s advantage in rebounds.
The Gauchos went into the half up 37-23.
The crowd of hundreds of local elementary schoolers — who were there for “School Day” — frantically urged UCSB on as the second half tipped off, but it was actually the Wolverines who came out of the break energized to play. Utah Valley relied on offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities to slowly whittle the lead down, and a six-point swing in the last 30 seconds, which included a buzzer-beating three-point heave by senior Alexis Cortez, cut the Gaucho lead to just three by the end of the third quarter.
“It was offensive rebounds [that kept Utah Valley in the game],” Coach Henrickson explained. “We gotta box out, the first five offensive rebounds were all guards … we gotta clean that up.”
The fourth quarter started off as a back-and-forth affair with a bucket by Josie Williams getting the Wolverines within one point of the Gauchos’ lead with 8:26 to go. That would be the closest that Utah Valley would get, however, as a Lane shot and then two consecutive Danae Miller threes pushed the Gaucho lead back to nine.
Miller was the star of the show for UCSB, seemingly always having an answer for any Wolverine run. The junior guard shot a perfect 5 of 5 from the 3-point line, en route to a game-high 24 points, and was able to fit into more of a shooting-guard role instead of always having to facilitate.
“Danae’s rhythm, her timing [were impressive]. She took those shots at the right time,” Coach Henrickson said after the game. “I even told her that she has to be prepared to miss more shots this year, because she’s going to take more … because we need her to, because she’s capable of that.”