Hawai’i Returns the Favor, Edges Gauchos Out, 54-51

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – After coming from behind to hand Hawai'i its first home loss of the season four weeks ago, UC Santa Barbara had the favor returned as the Rainbow Wahine overcame a first-half deficit to defeat the Gauchos, 54-51, on Thursday night in the Thunderdome.

With the victory, Hawai'i maintained its first-place tie with Pacific in the Big West Conference standings; each team is 10-4 in league. The Rainbow Wahine are now 14-11 on the season. The Gauchos, meanwhile, fall to 11-14 overall and 7-6 in league games. 

Trailing by three with four seconds remaining in the game, UCSB called a timeout. Destini Mason inbound the ball to Melissa Zornig, who was able to get off a three-point shot just before the final buzzer rang, but the ball bounced off the rim as Hawai'i held on for the victory.

"It was the play we wanted, but not necessarily the shot we wanted. Otherwise it would have gone in and then I would have been brilliant again," head coach Carlene Mitchell joked post game.

The first half of the game had been tightly contested with the lead changing hands seven times early in the stanza. Trailing 19-18 with 7:22 on the clock, Underwood and Zornig made consecutive lay-ups to give the Gauchos a lead that they did not relinquish during the remainder of the half. Heading into the locker rooms, UCSB was up 26-24.

The Gauchos' lead was short lived, however, as Kiamilah Martin hit a jumper just 50 seconds into the second half to tie the game once again. UCSB was able to momentarily get back on top, but the Rainbow Wahine broke a 32-32 tie with an 11-4 run that gave them a seven-point lead at the stanza's halfway point.

"We were extremely flat in the first four minutes of that second half and I think that's when we saw the momentum change and they felt they had the upper hand," Nicole Nesbit said. "We let them get physical with us and it took us a while to fight back and we can't let that happen." 

UCSB countered with a 7-2 run of its own, to once again deadlock the game with 5:19 to play. That would mark the final tie of the game.

A jumper by Mason with 2:08 to go cut the Hawai'i lead to one at 51-50, but Martin made two clutch free-throws to give the Rainbow Wahine some breathing room. 

Trailing by two with less than 10 seconds remaining, Nicole Nesbit attempted to recreate the game-winning drive from the Jan. 26 contest at Hawai'i, but she got tied up as she dribbled into the double team and the ball was turned over. The Gauchos were forced to foul and Destiny King made one of two from the line, leaving the door open for UCSB. Unfortunately, the Gauchos couldn't muster the last second heroics needed to tie the game. 

Senior Sweets Underwood led UCSB with 16 points and had five rebounds. She made 4-of-5 attempts from the field and 8-of-12 from the charity stripe. Junior Nicole Nesbit had 15 points while Senior Kirsten Tilleman led the squad with six rebounds and a career-high six assists. The Gauchos shot 47.2% from the field (17-of-36) and made 17-of-24 free-throw attempts (70.8%). 

Hawai'i had three players score in the double digits. Martin finished with 14 points – 12 of which came in the second half – and eight boards. Shawna-Lei Kuehu provided 12 points and King had 11 off the bench. 

The Rainbow Wahine shot 41.9% (18-of-43) from the field, made 4-of-6 from the three-point range and made 14-of-18 (77.8%) from the free-throw line.

This marks just the second time this season that UCSB has fallen after holding a halftime lead.

The Gauchos will complete their current home stand on Saturday, Feb. 23 when they host Cal State Northridge in a 2 p.m. game at the Thunderdome.

Saturday's game will be broadcast live on KZSB 1290 AM, the Santa Barbara News-Press radio station, and online at UCSBgauchos.com. A live video stream is available at BigWest.tv. 

Tickets are available by visiting the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, by calling (805) 893-UCSB or by clicking here