IRVINE, Calif. – The last time the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team visited the Bren Center, it began its incredible run to the 2012 Big West Tournament title with a first round win over UC Irvine. With a 51-46 victory during their follow-up visit on Thursday evening – their 2013 Big West Conference opener – the Gauchos are hoping that a win in Irvine will once again be the start of something special.
With the win, UCSB improves to 5-8 on the season and jumps out to a 1-0 lead in Big West play. The Gauchos also snap a three-game skid with the victory and stretches its league win streak to five-games, extending back into the 2011-12 season. UCSB is now 3-2 in road games. Irvine, meanwhile, falls to 4-9 and 0-1 in league. The Anteaters drop to 0-5 on their home court.
"I'm going smile after this one," said head coach Carlene Mitchell. "I'm happy that we got 50 (points) and got the win. It was nice to get the monkey off our back."
UCSB got off to a solid start as it climbed to an 11-3 lead with 12:11 to go in the half. The Gauchos' hot start quickly cooled as an over seven minute scoring drought ensued. UCI went on a 5-0 run that was punctuated with a lay-up by Anete Klinstone with 10:13 to go, but the Anteaters then began to suffer a simultaneous dry spell.
Melissa Zornig's jumper with 4:53 to go got the Gaucho offense going again and they tacked on 11 points in the final five minutes to take a 22-17 lead into the locker rooms.
The Gauchos shot 47.6% (10-for-21) in the half, but committed nine of their 12 turnovers during the stanza and had the ball stolen six times. UCSB was able to limit the Anteaters to just 21.7% (5-for-23) shooting from the field during the first 20 minutes. Irvine's 17 points tie for the second lowest first-half output against the Gauchos this season, matching Washington's on Dec. 15.
The Gauchos built upon their lead in the opening minutes of the second half, climbing out to an eight-point advantage four minutes into the period. The closest the Anteaters would come was four points as Camille Buckley posted five consecutive points to cut the score to 37-33 with 7:32 to go.
UCSB quickly squashed the Anteaters' attempt at a comeback as they went on a 7-1 run to gain a 44-34 lead with 2:23 on the clock. UCI continued to battle, but several missed shots down the stretch by Irvine and clutch shooting by the nation's No. 23 free-throw shooter, Nicole Nesbit, sealed the Gauchos' win.
The Gauchos displayed a strong team performance in the victory with three players scoring in the double-digits for the first time since their Dec. 5 victory at Loyola Marymount. Nesbit led the team with 14 points and made 6-of-6 from the charity stripe. She also had five rebounds and three assists.
Sweets Underwood and Zornig each had 11 points with the latter hitting 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Destini Mason led the team with eight rebounds to go along with eight points and Kirsten Tilleman led the team with a career-high four assists paired with a team-best two blocked shots.
For the game, UCSB shot 39.1% and limited UC Irvine to 30.6% shooting from the field. The Gauchos out-rebounded the Anteaters, 37-32.
UCSB will continue Big West play on Saturday, Jan. 8 at Long Beach State at 4 p.m. in Walter Pyramid. The game will be broadcast live online at UCSBgauchos.com and can be viewed on BigWest.tv. Links to both broadcasts can be found here.