SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – While it doesn't count in the standings or even in anyone's officially tally, or furthermore in Carlene Mitchell's win-loss record, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team got off to a terrific start under their new head coach with impressive play down the stretch to knock off Vanguard, 62-58, in an exhibition victory to open the 2011-12 season.
Three Gaucho players scored in double figures and UCSB got solid bench play from several players to hold off the NAIA power from Costa Mesa, Calif.
Although it wasn't always smooth.
UCSB trailed for all but about two minutes of the first half as the Lions forced six turnovers in the first five-plus minutes and led by as many as eight points on two occasions. Yet, Mitchell helped re-group her troops and UCSB only trailed by a point at halftime thanks to a a 7-0 spurt in the final 1:35.
Then, Vanguard pushed to a six-point lead early in the second half before UCSB finally caught the Lions.
A three-pointer from Emilie Johnson cut the lead to three with 13:06 left and started an 18-5 run.
That advantage was just big enough for Vanguard to overcome, although it wasn't without excitement. The Lions cut it to 60-58 on a three-point play by Alison Drennan with just under a minute left, but Vanguard had to foul and eventually Johnson s
ank a pair of free throws to give UCSB the win and hand Carlene Mitchell her first unofficial, official, victory.
Johnson led the Gauchos with 15 points to go with three assists and three steals while Zornig had 13 points. Sweets Underwood finished with 11 points, six rebounds, two blocked shots, an assist and two steals.
In her first game as a Gaucho, Oregon State transfer Kirsten Tilleman had eight points and 13 rebounds
to go with a blocked shot and a steal.
UCSB, to its credit, cleaned things up offensively after the opening minutes and finished with more assists (14) than turnovers (13). Despite fouling out, Nicole Nesbit led the team with five assists to go with her six points.
UCSB shot 48.1 percent from the floor, including 23.5 percent from downtown.
The Gauchos officially open the season on Friday, November 11 at Seattle and host their home opener on Thursday, Nov. 17 against St. Mary's. Season tickets are still available by calling (805) 893-UCSB or online by clicking here.