February 13, 2008

Gauchos Hold Off Cal State Bakersfield, 77-67

Feb. 13, 2008

Box Score

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Jessica Wilson scored 21 points for the second game in a row and Ashlee Brown and Margaret Johnson recorded career-highs to lead UC Santa Barbara to 77-67 victory over visiting Cal State Bakersfield Wednesday night in the Thunderdome.

The Gauchos held a non-conference record of just 5-6 entering the match-up with the Roadrunners but continued their winning ways, posting a 12th consecutive victory to improve to 16-6 overall this season. CSUB falls to 9-13 in its first full season as an NCAA Division I program after losing its third straight. All three losses have come at the hands of Big West teams.

Wilson matched the season-high 21 points she scored Saturday at UC Irvine, finishing 9-of-16 from the field. The Sacramento, Calif. native also recorded seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals.

In addition to Wilson's second straight 20-point barrage, the Gaucho freshmen were the story Wednesday night. Brown finished 6-of-11 from the floor and matched her career-high with 15 points (she scored 15 in UCSB's win at Cal Poly January 19). She also hauled in six boards and dished out four assists, a personal best.

After setting career marks with eight points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes against the Anteaters on Saturday, Johnson eclipsed both of those numbers in the first half against the Roadrunners, tallying nine points and nine rebounds. She finished 5-of-16 from the field on the way to her first career double-double with 11 points and 11 boards. Both totals are career highs.

Santa Barbara forced Bakersfield into six turnovers on its first 13 possessions and raced out to a 20-7 lead after the first 7:25 following a Johnson layup. But as they would do all evening, the Roadrunners battled back and outscored the Gauchos 12-3 over the next five and a half minutes to pull within four at 23-19.

UCSB led 32-25 with a 1:58 left to play in the half before Naomi Johnson and Ke'Airra Jones combined to hit four straight free throws and Kirsta Arase drained a triple to tie the score at 32-32. Jordan Franey found Brown cutting to the basket for an easy layup with 11 seconds remaining and the Gauchos took a 34-32 lead into the locker room at the break.

Bakersfield took its first lead of the game at 42-39 less than four minutes into the second half following a three-point play from Chris Kepenekian, but Brown scored inside on the next possession to spark a 16-2 Santa Barbara run over the ensuing 4:01.

The Gauchos looked to have pulled in front comfortably with a 58-45 lead following a Wilson jumper at the 10:35 mark, but the Roadrunners answered once more, scoring nine answered to pull within four, 58-54. Wilson hit two free throws and knocked down a three to stem the tide, but back-to-back buckets from Kepenekian and a pair of foul shots from Kelley Tarver cut the advantage to just three, 64-61.

It was all UCSB from there, however, as Brown and Wilson combined to score the Gauchos' next seven points to give Santa Barbara a 71-64 lead with 1:23 remaining.

Sha'Rae Gibbons hit all six of her free throws down the stretch to seal the 77-66 victory.

"We knew coming in that Bakersfield was not going to roll over for us," head coach Mark French said. "They are a very talented team. We knew what they were going to do and they did and did it well."

Naomi Johnson led all scorers with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting to pace the Roadrunners. Kepenekian added 19, with 11 coming in the second half.

UCSB shot 45.3% for the game, while CSUB finished at a 42.3% clip. The Gauchos held a 39-34 advantage on the boards and outscored the Roadrunners 42-29 in the paint. Santa Barbara finished with 23 assists - one shy of the team's season high - on 29 made baskets and had just 15 turnovers.

The Gauchos will resume Big West play against Central Coast rival Cal Poly this Saturday seeking their 11th consecutive conference win and 13th overall. Tip-off against the Mustangs is slated for 2:00 p.m.