SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – In a game that came down to the final minute, UC Santa Barbara fell to UC Irvine by the final score of 77-73 in the Thunderdome.
The Gauchos were led by Nicole Nesbit's 20 points, while the floor leader was Camille Buckley who finished with game-highs of 27 points and 13 rebounds. Clair Watkins led UCSB on the boards with 11 and came up one point shy of a double double.
Santa Barbara drops to 3-10 in conference play and 8-18 overall. With the win, UC Irvine breaks the .500 mark and is now 7-6 in the Big West and 14-13 on the season.
The teams were in a tight battle throughout the first half, until the Gauchos snagged the lead that they would control into the halftime break with 8:34 remaining.
Down 20-16, Melissa Zornig ignited a 7-0 Gaucho run to pull ahead for the first time since the opening minute.
Nesbit followed Zornig's left corner triple by nailing a long two-point jumper from the left wing.
Jasmine Ware, making her first appearance in four games for UCSB, made it two the charity stripe to cap off the run with a pair of foul shots.
Regaining the lead at 23-20, Vanessa Aguilar knotted up the score following the UCSB run with a three-pointer from the right wing.
The lead would be threatened, but not taken, as Nesbit coolly responded with another long two-pointer at the wing.
UCSB coupled that shot with a layup after Watkins delivered a block against Lauren Spinazze to send the ball the other way. While in transition, Nesbit garnered the attention of two Irvine defenders and slipped a pass to Destini Mason near the left block for the wide-open layup.
After a pair of successful free throws from Mason on the following UCSB possession, the Gauchos took a 29-23 lead with 4:45 left in the first.
Aguilar again hit a look from downtown to keep her team close at 29-26. The Anteater finished with 17 points off a game-high 5-of-9 performance from three-point land.
Santa Barbara didn't wait long to get that three back, though, as Kendra Morrison poured in her first trey of the contest from the left corner.
After Onome Jemerigbe slashed her way through the lane to give UCSB a 34-30 edge with 13 seconds left, Jennifer Tsurumoto hit a buzzer beater from the foul line to lower the deficit to two.
The Gauchos went on to increase their lead to nine points by the 15:44 mark in the second, and used an 11-5 run to get there.
UCSB rattled off three straight points with the first coming from a Watkins' free throw, while Jemerigbe hit the first field goal of the half on a layup. The freshman finished the game in tying a career-best 13 points.
Nesbit had the biggest contribution to the run as she fired off three consecutive jumpers from different spots on the floor. Zornig's second three-pointer of the night placed Santa Barbara ahead 46-37 with just over 15 minutes remaining.
UCSB fended off Irvine until the 6:47 mark when Aguilar hit back-to-back looks from three-point range to give the Anteaters the 64-58 edge.
Entering the final minute of the game, the Gauchos were trailing 73-68, but another Zornig three-ball put them back within striking distance with 41 seconds left.
However, the Anteaters didn't waste their shots from the free throw line and came out on top in the tightly contested matchup.
UCSB will return to the Thunderdome on Saturday to take on UC Davis starting at 2 p.m. The game will be the Gauchos' annual Play 4Kay game, as the team looks to raise breast cancer awareness. A pair of the official 2014 Play 4Kay Nike shoe will be auctioned off at the game, along with special warm up jerseys worn by the players. Tickets for the game are available at the Ticketing Office at the Intercollegiate Athletics Building, over the phone at 805.893.UCSB (8272), and online here.