SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Despite jumping out to an early lead, UC Santa Barbara was unable to hold on as it fell to visiting Kansas State, 60-45, on Saturday afternoon in the Thunderdome.
With the loss, UCSB falls to 4-8 on the year and 1-4 at home. The Wildcats improve to 9-3 and stay perfect on the road at 5-0.
The Gauchos started the game hot opening with a 9-0 run, led by Kirsten Tilleman's four points. Kansas State was able to finally breakthrough when Mariah White tossed in a layup. The Wildcats continued to chip away at the Gaucho lead and with 12:03 to go in the half, Briana Craig hit a three to tie the game for the first time at 13-13.
The Gauchos were able to pull ahead again momentarily behind a layup and free-throw by Sweets Underwood, but K-State proceeded to go on a 13-0 run over the next eight minutes to gain the 26-16 advantage with 3:38 on the clock. The Wildcats pushed their lead to as many as 11 points before the Gauchos cut their deficit back down to single digits in the final minute to end the half at 32-23.
K-State was bolstered by its 52.2% shooting (12-for-23) in the first half and its three baskets from beyond the arc. The Gauchos shot 38.1% (8-for-21) in the opening 20 and went toe-to-toe in the rebound battle as each team grabbed 13. Brittany Chambers had 12 of her 27 points in the first stanza while Underwood led the Gauchos with nine of her 11.
UCSB was able to cut the K-State lead to eight, 43-35, with 11:34 remaining, but the Wildcats once again put their collective foot on the gas as they strung together a 12-0 run to push their lead to 55-35 with 5:41 left in the game. The closest UCSB would come down the stretch was 15 points as it fell, 60-45.
"At times when we get out to a start like that, we tend to just relax. We have to get out of that habit and keep pushing," Underwood said. "At the end of the day, we are always going to play until the end of the game, but things obviously weren't going our way in the second half as they were in the first."
Underwood led the squad with 11 points and nine rebounds, just missing her fifth double-double of the season. Tilleman had eight points while Zornig chipped in seven. Freshman Jasmine Ware pitched in a career-best seven rebounds as the Gauchos out-rebounded K-State, 28-25.
As a team, the Gauchos shot 40% (18-of-45), marking its best field goal percentage since the Dec. 5 game against Loyola Marymount. K-State was impressive, though, shooting 52.3% from the field and was bolstered by its six three-pointers.
Chambers' 27 points and nine rebounds paced the Wildcats while Ashia Woods was second on the team with 11 points.
"Putting the schedule together, we hoped that we would win a few, and we had that big win at Washington, but again, losing can do crazy things to teams and their mentalities," head coach Carlene Mitchell said. "It will be my responsibility to make sure our kids come in tomorrow, get back to work and get better.
"The Big West has had some big wins, so we can't think that we have played some tough competition and it's going to get easier now; it's only going to get harder because we are in conference play and every game will count."
The Gauchos will open Big West Conference play on Thursday, Jan. 3 at UC Irvine in a 7 p.m. pairing. They will then play Long Beach State on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on UCSBgauchos.com and BigWest.tv.