Gauchos Clinch Big West Tournament Berth With 61-44 Senior Day Win Over UCR

Coco Miller (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Coco Miller (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Facing UC Riverside on a rainy Saturday afternoon, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team pulled away late en route to a 61-44 Senior Day win.

With their fourth straight win at home in their 2018-19 Thunderdome finale, the Gauchos improved to 8-20 overall and 5-10 in conference play. They also clinched their fourth straight Big West Tournament berth, as Cal Poly (6-19, 3-11) was eliminated from postseason contention with a loss at CSUN.

"I thought we withstood some runs, got some defensive rebounds when we needed to," said head coach Bonnie Henrickson. "Our first shot defense was really good, and our half court defense was really good."

UCSB guards Coco Miller and Danae Miller were instrumental throughout the game. Coco finished with game-highs of 19 points and three steals, knocking down 5-of-10 three-pointers. Danae went for 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds in yet another complete performance.

The backcourt duo was at its best in the second half though, putting the game to bed in the fourth quarter as UCR (15-13, 9-5) hung around.

After the Highlanders scored the first four points of the period to cut the Gaucho lead to 49-43, the Millers would embark on a 12-0 run. Danae started things with a corner three at the 7:35 mark, and on the next possession converted a dagger of a three-point play, beating the shot clock with a difficult hanging floater plus contact from the left wing. Soon after, she knocked down her second three-pointer of the quarter to give UCSB its largest lead of the game at 61-43 with 2:44 left in the game.

Right before Danae put in her final points, Coco swished home her fifth triple of the game, capping one of her most efficient shooting nights of 2019. She also helped keep the Highlanders at bay in the third quarter, which began with UCSB leading by just one point. The redshirt junior knocked down 3-of-4 from deep in the third to send UCSB into the fourth leading 49-39.

Junior center Natalia Bruening finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore Bri Anugwom went for eight points and 11 boards, recording double-figures in the rebound department for the third time during conference play.

After shooting just 24 percent in Wednesday's win over Cal Poly, the Gauchos looked like a different team offensively early on against the Highlanders. UCSB connected on eight of its first 14 shot attempts, taking a 21-11 lead just eight minutes in on a contested 17-foot jumper from Tal Sahar. The 21 first quarter points were the most the Gauchos have had against a Big West opponent in an opening period this season.

While Santa Barbara's offense would go cold in the second, Riverside's efficient three-point shooting kept the visitors in it in the first half. The Highlanders hit 3-of-5 from deep, compared to 1-of-11 for the Gauchos, cutting it to a 28-27 UCSB lead at the half. The Gauchos' outside shooting would get hot in the second half though, as they connected on 6-of-13 attempts to close things out.

UCSB's defense also shined down the stretch, holding UCR to just 14.3 percent (2-14 FG) shooting in the fourth quarter and 33.9 percent for the game. Forward Marina Ewodo led the Highlanders with 11 points.

"Overall, good defensive effort. I thought we were active defensively," Henrickson said. "I thought we were aggressive on offense, too, but we've still got to be a little more disciplined."

The free throw battle ended up favoring the Gauchos as well, as they outshot the Highlanders with a near-perfect 10-of-11 mark, compared to 1-for-9 for UCR.

Santa Barbara currently owns the No. 8 seed in the Big West, but could still move up in the standings before the end of league play. The Gauchos are set to close out the regular season at first place UC Davis next Saturday.