While political candidates have been talking about change, UCSB coach Mark French demanded change, and his women’s basketball team enacted change.
Adorned in new gold uniforms, the Gauchos turned the tables on UC Riverside, thumping the visitors 73-61 Thursday night before a season-high crowd of 1,482 at the Thunderdome. The Highlanders had won their previous five games against the Gauchos. UCSB (13-6, 8-0 Big West) finished the first round of conference play with a two-game lead over Riverside (7-11, 5-2), the defending champion.
It was the Gaucho women’s ninth straight victory, but it was a change from their last homestand, a pair of uninspired wins over UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton.
“I knew we didn’t play hard those games,” senior Jessica Wilson said. “We just got lucky.”
Wilson left nothing to chance against the Highlanders. She posted her fourth double-double of the year – 19 points and 12 rebounds. In so doing, she became the 22nd player in the program to tally 1,000 points in her career. She now has 1,003.
French had taken away the Gauchos’ practice gear and locker room privileges to get them motivated two weeks ago. Before Thursday’s game, they found the golden garb awaiting them in the locker room. Previously they had worn white with gold trim.
“There’s something about coaching women, giving them new clothes,” French quipped.
There was historic significance to the change, he said. “Past Gauchos that wore gold played really, really well.” He thought the 1999-2000 team, which went 30-4, was the last to wear such uniforms. To French, playing well means being tough on defense and on the boards. The Gauchos passed muster in those departments, limiting the Highlanders to 36.5-percent shooting and outrebounding them, 43-33.
Junior center Kat Suderman had 13 points and nine rebounds, and junior guard Sha’Rae Gibbons scored 10 points. Sophomores Jordan Franey and Meagan Williams combined for 10 rebounds off the bench. “Franey played the best defensive game of her career,” French said.
“Our bench is deeper than last year,” said freshman forward Ashley Brown, who contributed eight points. She was affected by watching tape of UCSB’s loss to Riverside in the Big West Tournament last year. “It was heart-wrenching,” Brown said. “We were physically strong and mentally prepared tonight. We had tenacity.”
The Highlanders had Tainoisouti (pronunciation similar to “tenacity”) Lott, a 6’2″ junior who scored a career-high 27 points with quick moves in the paint. She also pulled down 11 rebounds. All-conference guard Seyram Gbewonyo scored 14 points, but the rest of the Riverside team was thoroughly shut down.
UCSB finished the first half on an 8-0 run to take a 32-28 lead and remained on top throughout the second half. Wilson’s 1,001st point on a breakaway layup made it a double-digit lead (63-52) for the first time with 2 Â½ minutes remaining.
The Gaucho women go on the road next week to Fullerton and Irvine.