SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A late comeback by UC Santa Barbara came up just short on Thursday evening as the Gauchos fell to visiting UC Riverside, 45-42, in the Thunderdome.
With the loss, UCSB falls to 8-12 on the season and 4-4 in Big West play. UCR improves to 10-9 on the year and 3-5 in league play. The Gauchos' home woes continued as they fell to 2-6 in the Thunderdome.
"It's like a missing one free-throw, it becomes contagious, and now we have an epidemic that we are having to battle while playing at home," head coach Carlene Mitchell said. "If you have seen us play on the road, we are a totally different team."
Reigning Big West Player of the Week Sweets Underwood led the Gauchos with her seventh double-double of the season. She tallied 14 points while grabbing 12 rebounds. Senior Kirsten Tilleman, meanwhile, tied her season-high with 12 boards.
The Highlanders were led by Natasha Hadley, who tallied 20 points after making 8-of-16 from the field and 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. UCSB was able to limit UCR's leading scorer Tre'Shonti Nottingham – who averages 18.3 points per game – to 12 points.
The Gauchos, who were coming off of a pair of road wins, were able to jump out to an 11-5 lead with 14:14 to go in the first half. UCSB quickly went cold, however, and Riverside strung together a 20-7 run – propelled by 12 points from Hadley – to end the stanza ahead, 25-18.
UCSB was able to cut its deficit to as few as four points at 35-31 with 7:52 on the clock in the second behind a free-throw by Underwood, but the Highlanders put up six unanswered points to gain their biggest lead of the game at 41-31.
Down, but not out, the Gauchos continued to chip away and consecutive jumpers by Destini Mason and Tilleman put UCSB back within four with 2:23 left to play. With a minute remaining, Underwood was fouled as she drove up the right lane and sunk both her subsequent free-throws to cut the Highlander advantage to just two.
Angelei Aguirre stole the ball as UCR attempted to run down the clock and Nicole Nesbit was able to draw the foul to give the Gauchos a fighting chance with 13 seconds to play. The junior missed her first free-throw, but made her second to whittle the Highlander lead to 43-42.
With seven seconds remaining, the Gauchos fouled Nottingham and the Big West's top free-throw shooter downed both. UCSB attempted one final play, but Nesbit's shot went up after the buzzer sounded as the Highlanders held on for the win.
"I don't think it came down to that last possession, I think that throughout the course of the game, we made little mistakes that, in the end, will cost you the game," Nesbit said. "I think continuing to have lulls on the defensive end or the offensive end, where you don't score for 10 minutes, really hurt us at the end of the game."
UCSB shot 32.7% (16-of-49) from the field while limiting Riverside to 29.8% (17-of-57) shooting. The Gauchos – who pace the league with their 73.4% shooting from the charity stripe – struggled to make their free-throws as they made 9-of-16 (56.3%). UCSB was able to out-rebound UCR, 43-35, but had 17 turnovers during the game; five more than its foe.
"We have to forget about this right away and move onto the next one, it's just a matter of focusing on our ultimate goal," Underwood said.
The Gauchos continue action at the Thunderdome on Saturday, Feb.
2 against Cal State Fullerton. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Saturday's game will air on KZSB 1290 AM, the Santa Barbara News-Press radio station and can also be heard on UCSBgauchos.com. A live video broadcast will air on BigWest.tv.
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.