Sunday was a day of milestones at the Thunderdome. Lindsay Gottlieb made her official debut as a head basketball coach with a victory - UCSB’s women defeated the University of San Diego, 75-66 - and veteran guard Lauren Pedersenachieved a single-game career high, leading the Gauchos with 27 points.
“I got a little emotional in the locker room,” Gottlieb said. “Here in this place, the way these young women played … That’s the team I want to coach.”
It was the first game in 22 years that UCSB’s women played without Mark French in charge. French, who was in the stands Sunday, retired from coaching at the end of last season. UCSB hired Gottlieb, a 31-year-old assistant at Cal, to replace him. She brought in an entirely new staff.
Pedersen, a 5‘10” senior, had 19 points at halftime - matching her previous high for a game - as the Gauchos took a 35-25 lead into the locker room
San Diego came back with a vengeance in the second half, as 6‘5” center Amber Sprague scored 18 of her game-high 31 points. The Toreros tied the score at 46-all with nine minutes remaining.
But the Gauchos weathered the storm. Pedersen scored on a driving layup to put them ahead for good. Senior center Kat Suderman pitched in 11 second-half points. Two other Gauchos scored in double figures - freshman guard Emilie Johnson (11 points) and senior guard Whitney Warren (10 points and a game-high 8 rebounds).
Warren’s driving hoop gave UCSB a 64-52 lead with 2:40 remaining. The Toreros hit three 3-pointers down the stretch and fouled the Gauchos to put them at the free-throw line.
“We had a look about us that said, ‘We’re going to hit the free throws,’ ” Gottlieb said. Led by Pedersen (11-for-11 from the stripe) and the confident freshman Johnson (6-for-6), the charity shots salted the victory.
The Gauchos executed their offense sharply at times against USD, which was an NCAA playoff team last year. When the Toreros asserted a full-court press in the first half, UCSB whipped the ball through it, resulting in a layup by Jenna Green.
The Gaucho women’s next three games will be on the road, starting Thursday at Fresno State. Their games can be heard on KTMS 990 AM.
Meanwhile, UCSB’s men begin a big week by hosting Utah State tonight (Mon., Nov. 17) at 7 p.m. Top-ranked North Carolina comes into the Thunderdome on Friday night. The Gauchos opened their season Saturday with a 64-55 victory over Cal State Los Angeles. The men’s games can be heard on KBKO 1490 AM.