LONG BEACH, Calif. – A record-breaking performance from Sarah Porter powered UCSB (15-15) to its first Big West Tournament quarterfinal win in four years on Wednesday night, as the redshirt sophomore knocked down 9-11 from beyond-the-arc and scored a career-high 31 points to give the Gauchos an 81-71 win over No. 5 seed UC Riverside (16-15).
The nine threes were the most ever in both the Big West Tournament and in UCSB single-game history, breaking Erin Alexander's (8 at USC, 12/19/96) program record.
"It just means that my hard work in the offseason has paid off, just getting extra shots up in the gym. It feels good," Porter said of her record-breaking night. "I'm just ready for whatever [the defense] gives me, and they gave me a lot of open shots. I just took it as a normal game."
Porter wasn't the only Gaucho to have a career-performance though, as redshirt junior Drew Edelman tied a pair of personal-highs with 22 points and 14 rebounds on an 11-17 (.647) shooting night. She recorded her fourth double-double in her last six outings, improving her team-leading mark to eight for the season. She has now shot over 57 percent from the field in seven straight games.
"They were collapsing and doubling a little bit more, but my teammates were really looking for me," Edelman said. "When they weren't doubling, we took advantage of it inside, and when they did, we would find Sarah, so it was a really good combination."
Nerves didn't seem to be a factor for either team out of the gates, as both teams shot above 50 percent for most of the opening quarter. However, no one was hotter than Porter, who connected with a three on the first possession of the game. She would end the first period with 20 points on a perfect 6-6 mark from deep.
Porter's triple at the 6:46 mark started a 15-0 run as the Gauchos took the largest lead of the half, 23-10, with 1:30 to go in the first. The rest of the opening half saw the Highlanders chip away at the lead, as they went 9-14 (.643) in the second quarter to cut the lead to 42-37 at halftime.
UC Riverside had just seven players suited up for the game, not including leading scorer senior Réjane Vérin, who entered Wednesday night having missed Riverside's previous five outings. However, sophomore Malou Thiebaut De Kergret and junior Michelle Curry would step up to fill the scoring void, going a combined 8-8 from the field for 20 points in the second quarter to help cut into UCSB's lead.
"It had to feel like shootaround for them in the first half," head coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "They were getting uncontested shots, but we began to switch more and that helped us. We answered the run, which you have to do."
Despite the Gauchos' hot start, they found themselves holding on to a slim advantage in the third quarter, as a pair of free throws from Curry brought Riverside within a point at 56-55 with 3:00 to go.
At that point, with starting point guard Onome Jemerigbe in foul trouble, redshirt junior point guard Drea Toler began to put her stamp on the game. After going 1-7 from the field in the first half, Toler began to penetrate with purpose in the third, as she would connect on five of her next eight attempts to help keep Riverside at bay. Her layup with nine seconds to go in the third pushed UCSB's lead back up to 67-59.
The fatigue factor began to take a toll on the Highlanders, especially after Kergret's fifth foul with 1:11 to go in the third took their lineup down to six eligible players. UCSB would continue to wear Riverside down heading into the fourth, before Porter's record-breaking ninth triple at the 5:18 mark capped a 21-8 Gaucho run, giving them their largest lead of the game at 77-63.
"We're incredibly unselfish, we've been that way all year, so we don't have to worry about that," Henrickson said. "Nobody cares who gets the credit here. Those teams are fun to play on, fun to coach, and hard to play against."
Porter's 31 points surpassed her previous career-high of 22, which she coincidentally set against UC Riverside in a 58-54 UCSB victory back on Jan. 14. The nine triples were also four more than her personal-best (5 at UCI, Jan. 28). She was assisted by either Toler or Jemerigbe on eight of the nine threes.
UCSB finished 31-62 from the field and 10-20 (.500) on threes, tying a season-high for its most efficient three-point shooting night. Freshman guard Aliceah Hernandez was the only player other than Porter with a three, finishing with five points and two boards in her postseason debut.
Jemerigbe, hampered by foul trouble in the early-going, finished with five assists, two points and one steal. She and Toler were able to successfully break Riverside's full-court press every time they faced it in the second half, as the Highlanders attempted to force some turnovers to get back into the game.
Toler finished 6-16 from the field for 13 points, eight assists and two steals.
After going 15-27 (.556) in the first half, Riverside couldn't duplicate its strong offensive start in the second half, going 13-32 (.406) over the final 20 minutes. Three Highlanders scored in double-figures, with Curry's 22 points on 7-11 shooting leading the way. Kergret added 19 on an 8-14 night, while junior Lauren Holt added 11 points on 5-10 shots.
The Gauchos will now shift their attention to this Friday, when they will face No. 1 seed UC Davis (23-6, 14-2) in the semifinals as they look to extend their season. The last time UCSB won the Big West Tournament was in 2012, when it defeated Long Beach State 63-54.