UC Santa Barbara ended the regular season on a high note as they downed UC Irvine 49-41 in the Thunderdome on Saturday.
A Hollywood screenwriter couldn't have thought of a better way to start the game. Running off the emotion of the Senior Day ceremonies that took place just minutes before tipoff, the three Gaucho seniors started the game on a 6-0 run, with each of them scoring a basket.
Sweets Underwood got the offense going within the first minute of play as she took a pass from Kirsten Tilleman and finished with a layup in the paint. Underwood picked up her first rebound on the other end of the floor to give UCSB a chance to continue on their run. And Angelei Aguirre did just that by knocking down an open jump shot to put the Gauchos up 4-0.
To complete the senior scoring cycle, Tilleman took a pass from Destini Mason and drove through the left side of the lane and finished off the glass.
"It was great to win my last game in the Thunderdome," Underwood after the game. "I had butterflies all day just waiting to get on the floor and finally play."
Underwood finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds.
The Anteaters finally got on the scoreboard with Kelly Meggs' first three-pointer of the afternoon with 16:25 left in the first half.
UC Irvine was down through the majority of the first half, but managed to keep the games close through the play of Camille Buckley.
Buckley entered the game having already recorded 12 double-doubles this season, and she put together her 13th with 11 points and 12 rebounds against the Gauchos.
In the first half, Buckley led the Anteaters to 18 rebounds by pulling down six on her own, three of those on the offensive end.
UCSB was the team with the hot start, but it was the Anteaters who closed out the first half with momentum. UCI had a 5-0 run to end the first, capped off by a Cheyenne Cathey jumper with seven seconds left.
After being up by as many as six points, the Gauchos found themselves up only by one with the 20-19 score.
UCSB was able to pull away on a 6-0 run with 2:08 left in the game. The Gauchos were only up by two points, and Underwood got the ball rolling again for her team's offense.
After Nicole Nesbit missed on a layup, Underwood picked up the offense board and recorded the put-back off the glass.
From there, UC Irvine had to foul to have a shot at pulling out a late-game comeback. Unfortunately for them, Nicole Nesbit was the player they had to foul.
Nesbit, who came into the matchup with a 86.8 free-throw shooting percentage, went a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe to close the game for UCSB.
The junior guard finished with a game-high 17 points.
The Gauchos improved their record to 15-15 overall and 11-7 in the Big West. They also tied a season-high with three wins in a row. They will look to ride that momentum into the Big West Tournament next week.
The Gauchos will play their first game of the tournament in the quarterfinals round next Wednesday at the Bren Events Center in Irvine as they face the highest seed remaining from first round action. Tipoff will follow 30 minutes after the 6pm game.