SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The last time UCSB (13-15, 8-7) faced UC Irvine (4-25, 2-13), the Gauchos put on an outside shooting exhibition, setting a new single-game program record with 15 threes.
In the two teams' second and final meeting of the season Thursday night, the Gauchos punished the Anteaters on the inside, as redshirt junior Drew Edelman put together one of her best games of the season, scoring 21 points – one shy of her career-high – and snatching a personal-best 14 rebounds for her team-leading seventh double-double of the year. UCSB outscored Irvine 24-6 in points in the paint on the way to a big 71-53 victory.
"I'm just continuously trying to work, not letting the defense get around me and staying in front so my teammates can get it in to me," Edelman said. "They were just lobbing me perfect passes and we were connecting really well."
The win improves UCSB's conference record to 8-7, currently good for fifth-place in the Big West. However, with UC Riverside (15-13, 9-7) losing its regular season finale to first-place UC Davis, 61-59, the Gauchos can now reclaim the No. 4 seed with a win over Cal Poly this Saturday. This would give UCSB a first-round bye in the Big West Tournament, automatically moving the Gauchos into a quarterfinal game which would take place Wednesday night.
"Nobody's selfish in this group. I thought we were intentional and purposeful trying to find Drew early," head coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "Give them credit, they adjusted and we couldn't get it inside as easily, but then we began to drive it and see what would happen. When they had momentum, we put our foot on the gas."
Sophomore guard Coco Miller added 14 points, knocking down 4-5 from three-point range. Miller has found her stroke at the perfect time with the season winding down, as she has gone 9-14 from deep over the last two games.
Following a 17-17 first quarter, the Gauchos began to take charge in the second, stifling Irvine on the defensive end. The Anteaters were held scoreless for nearly seven minutes until midway through the second quarter, when a three-pointer from senior guard Irene Chavez ended a 17-0 UCSB run, making it 32-20.
Santa Barbara went just 3-9 from the field in the second period, but the Gauchos were able to get to the free throw line often as they continued pounding the ball inside, going 10-12 from the charity stripe in the second quarter alone. Meanwhile, the Anteaters went 2-15 in the period and didn't get to the foul line once. UCSB went on to finish 17-21 from the line, tying a season-high for free throws made.
After the Gauchos came out of the halftime break leading 33-25, they would catch begin to dominate early in the third, extending to their largest lead of the game, 45-26, off a wide-open triple from senior point guard Onome Jemerigbe.
Things began to get a little worrisome for UCSB after that point, as the home side allowed Irvine to creep back into the game, led by Chavez, who hit three treys in the third quarter alone. Chavez tied teammate Andee Ritter with 16 points to lead the way for the visitors.
With 5:11 to go in the game, the Anteaters cut what was a 19-point lead to as little as five at 56-51, thanks to a 25-11 run. However, the Gauchos would find a strong answer, responding with a couple layups from Edelman and redshirt junior Drea Toler before Miller put in her fourth triple of the game, pushing the lead back up to 66-53. UCSB eventually went on to earn a hard-fought 71-53 victory, ending a three-game losing streak.
Edelman finished 9-12 from the field and has now shot over 60 percent in five straight games and in eight of her last nine. Her incredibly efficient shooting over that stretch has bumped her season field goal percentage to .614, just shy of Mekia Valentine's (2010-11) single-season program record. She also finished a perfect 3-3 from the line, and has now made 12 consecutive over the last three games.
UCSB struggled keeping care of the ball for the second straight game, turning it over 19 times to Irvine's 11, but the Gauchos dominated on the glass, earning a 47-27 advantage in rebounds. That marks a season-best run of four straight games that UCSB has outrebounded its opponent.
Jemerigbe finished with a game-high seven assists and a Gaucho-best two steals. The seven assists were the most she's had in her last 16 outings.
Freshman guard Aliceah Hernandez, who torched the Anteaters for 21 points in their first meeting, knocked down 2-5 from deep and 3-6 overall for a third-leading eight points.
The Gauchos will now look to their season-finale against Cal Poly this Saturday, where a win will give them the No. 4 seed in the Big West Tournament and a first round bye.
"We've got to beat Poly," Henrickson said. "It's Senior Night, it's Poly. You have a chance to get to fourth and avoid being fifth, so there's a lot to play for."