SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team used a 29-4 run in the first half, then held off a pressing, turnover hungry St. Mary's team in the second half to pick up their first win of the season, 61-52 on Thursday night at the Thunderdome.
The victory was the first for UCSB head coach Carlene Mitchell and her staff. And, it came about because of what Mitchell and her staff stressed to her team following two losses to open the season - tough defense and rebounding.
UCSB held St. Mary's to just 29.2 percent shooting, including a putrid 14.3 clip in the first half. The Gauchos (1-2) also outrebounded the Gaels (1-2) 37-29.
The Gauchos played perhaps their best 20 minutes of basketball in a long time with a thrilling first half. UCSB turned a 6-3 advantage into a 35-7 lead thanks to stellar defense and getting their arms into the passing lane, turning the Gaels miscues into a lot of points.
During the run, Nicole Nesbit scored seven of her team-high 15 points. Emilie Johnson finished with 14 points and Sweets Underwood had her second double-double of the season with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Melissa Zornig had nine points and seven boards.
UCSB shot 40.9 percent in the first half, including five three-pointers, and took a 35-14 lead into the break.
However, an inspired St. Mary's team came flying out in the second half. The Gaels put on a pressure, full-court defense and forced 16 second-half turnovers by the Gauchos. UCSB was flummoxed by St. Mary's defense and the Gaels closed to within six points at 51-45 on Jasmine Smith's three-pointer with 1:25 to go.
Smith, of course, is the Gaels player who lit up UCSB for a career-high 27 points last season in St. Mary's 24-point win, but finished with 15 points on just 5 of 15 shooting.
The turning point, though, came when St. Mary's coach Paul Thomas was whistled for a technical foul with 3:10 to go and UCSB holding a tenuous 48-40 lead. Thomas was upset that a charge call was whistled against his team and he high-stepped on the sideline in anger.
Emilie Johnson knocked down both free throws, part of her 8-for-8 night at the line, to turn the tide and keep St. Mary's at bay. On the night UCSB shot 73.1 percent (19 of 26) from the charity stripe.
UCSB will host Loyola Marymount on Saturday with a 2 p.m. game as part of its three-game homestand. Tickets are available by calling 893-UCSB (8272) or clicking here.
The game can be heard live on AM 990 or online by clicking here, with the pregame show starting at 1:30.