PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico - The UCSB women's basketball handily downed Mississippi State, 60-43, on Wednesday afternoon in the second round of the Hardwood Tournament of Hope being held at the Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center.
With the victory, the Gauchos advance to Thursday's fifth place game and will face the winner between Missouri State and University of Central Florida at 1:30 p.m. (Pacific Time).
UCSB now stands at 2-2 on the season while MSU falls to 2-3.
The Gauchos were led by several standout performances. Senior Angelei Aguirre was undoubtedly the player of the game, with tremendous play on both sides of the ball. She finished with a career-high 11 points, three assists and two rebounds. Senior Sweets Underwood led all players with a double-double, posting a season-high 13 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Junior Melissa Zornig also posted a season-best 13 points and tied Aguirre with a team-leading three assists.
Mississippi State opened the game with a 6-0 run, but the Gauchos did not trail for long. Starting her first game of her senior season, Aguirre got UCSB on the board when she stole the ball, streaked down the court and put up a layup while being fouled. She quickly sunk her free throw, cutting the MSU lead in half.
Aguirre's three-point play was the beginning of an 11-0 run that the Gauchos used to take the lead, which they never relinquished.
In the first half, the Gauchos limited MSU to just 20% shooting from the field, but the Bulldogs capitalized on their opportunities at the charity stripe as they went 8-for-8 led by Martha Alwal, who went 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the first half.
A pair of free throws by Alwal late in the first half cut the Gaucho lead to one with 1:09 to go, but UCSB responded with a 5-0 run that put them up, 26-20, heading into the locker rooms.
The Gauchos' late run extended into the opening minutes of the second half as they climbed out to a 12-point lead three minutes in. UCSB continued to build upon that lead as Destini Mason put up eight of her 10 points in the second half and Zornig posted eight of her 13. UCSB shot 60% from the field in the half and 53.3% for the game.
With a layup from Aguirre with 1:34 to go, UCSB had achieved its biggest lead of the game and of the season at 58-36.
MSU was able to go on a 7-2 run at the end of the game, including a three pointer by Jessy Ware that just beat the buzzer, but the Gauchos had long ago closed the door as they cruised to the 60-43 victory.
The Gauchos limited the Bulldogs to just 22.4% shooting during the game and out-rebounded MSU, 33-23.
"I think our kids just understood the game plan," said head coach Carlene Mitchell. "We knew they were great athletes and that they could create their own shots, so we tried not to foul them. It looked like they still got to the free throw line a bit, so we need to do a better job on our interior defense. I am excited about how the kids responded and played today."
The 17-point win marks the Gauchos' largest margin of victory since they defeated Loyola Marymount last season, 66-49, on Nov. 19. The win is also the first against an SEC team since UCSB defeated Ole Miss in 2007. The Gauchos are now 6-10 all-time against schools from that conference.
Tomorrow's game against Missouri State or University of Central Florida at the Hardwood Tournament of Hope will be broadcast live on KZSB AM 1290 in Santa Barbara beginning at 1:00 p.m. Pacific Time. It can also be heard online here.
UCSB will return home on Tuesday, Nov. 27 to host USC in a 7 p.m. game at the Thunderdome. Season tickets and single game tickets for women's basketball are available at the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, by calling 805-893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here.