With seven minutes remaining, UCSB‘s chances looked the same as the score: 50-50. There had been 10 lead changes and nine ties in the women’s basketball game between the Gauchos and the Portland State Vikings. Neither team had been able to pull away.
But then UCSB seniors Jenna Green, Lauren Pedersen, and Whitney Warren asserted themselves, turning a nail-biter into a hand-clapper. The Gauchos tightened up their defense, attacked on offense, and opened up a 60-50 lead en route to their sixth consecutive victory, 67-60.
In crunch time, Green scored six of her 11 points and hauled down seven of her eight rebounds; Pedersen had three assists and a driving layup during the 10-0 run; and Warren finished off a great all-around effort with her third steal of the game.
Portland State (11-6) came into the Thunderdome on a four-game winning streak, with much the same lineup that thrashed UCSB by 15 points in Portland last year. Gaucho coach Lindsay Gottlieb said she looked at the non-conference matchup - the beginning of a four-game homestand - as “a benchmark,” a chance to see how far her team had come from its 3-6 start.
“We were much sharper,” Gottlieb said. “I was able to sit back and watch our offense a little bit and realize, ‘They’re getting it, they’re getting it.’ ”
UCSB (9-6) had its best shooting performance (47.9 percent) of the season. Four players scored in double figures - Warren (13), Jordan Franey (13), Pedersen (12), and Green (11). Warren, who made six of nine shots from the floor, also had eight rebounds. Pedersen contributed a game-high six assists.
The Gauchos had yielded only 43.4 points per game in their previous five wins. The Vikings beat that scoring pace with the help of seven 3-point baskets, but down the stretch UCSB’s defense put the clamps on them. The visitors shot 36.7 percent for the game.
UCSB finished the job at the free-throw line, making seven of 10 in the final 1:18.
“You have to hit free throws,” said Green, who compared herself to Shaquille O’Neal in the first half, when she missed three charity shots. “I kind of felt like it was hack-a-Shaq … I couldn’t hit free throws so I felt like him,” she said. “That was really frustrating.”
The Gaucho women, 4-0 in the Big West, return to conference action at 2 p.m. Saturday against Cal Poly. The UCSB ticket office (805-893-UCSB) is selling family packs (four tickets, four hot dogs, four sodas, and four T-shirts) for $40.
In other action Wednesday night, SBCC‘s five-game winning streak in men’s basketball came to an end in San Luis Obispo, as Cuesta College pounded the Vaqueros, 96-70. The SBCC women, however, stayed unbeaten in the Western State Conference by outscoring Cuesta, 73-50. The Vaqueros pulled off 25 steals in the game. SBCC returns home Saturday for a double-header against L.A. Pierce, starting at 5 p.m. with the men’s game.
On Tuesday night, Westmont College also split its road games at Biola. The host Eagles jumped out to a 32-17 halftime lead and defeated the 14th-ranked Westmont men, 59-50. The highest ranking ever achieved by the Westmont’s women - No. 10 on the NAIA poll released Monday - did not jinx them, as they held off 18th-ranked Biola, 55-49. Sophomore Angel Blanco scored seven points in a 10-2 run that gave the Warriors a 28-20 halftime lead. Westmont will host Point Loma Nazarene on Saturday, starting with the women’s game at 5:30 p.m.