In several games lately, UCSB was a turkey without stuffing, a martini without an olive, a sitcom without Malcolm. The Gauchos were missing a piece in the middle.
Alan “Big Al” Williams missed the last two basketball games because of back spasms. The Gauchos fought hard but came up short against Utah State and Colorado, a pair of upper-level teams.
In the NCAA soccer match Sunday night, midfielder Fifi Baiden went missing when he incurred a red card for sliding into a Penn State player in the sixth minute. Forced to play a man short, UCSB fought hard, but the Big Ten champions came away with a 1-0 victory.
It’s worth pointing out that, because of the circumstances, the odds were against the Gauchos in all three games, and they did their best to overcome them. The basketball season is just warming up, and when Big Al returns to the lineup, UCSB looks good for a run at the Big West championship. The soccer team did win the conference title but wanted more, and the finality of Sunday’s defeat was disheartening. It was only the second time in 13 NCAA tournament games at Harder Stadium that the Gauchos were on the losing end.
Just about every time the Gaucho women’s basketball team takes the floor, the opponent will appear bigger and stronger. That was certainly the case when the Arizona Wildcats visited the Thunderdome earlier this month, but UCSB took them down to the wire. After a spectacular driving layup by Nicole Nesbit tied the score, Arizona made two free throws in the final seconds and won, 51-49.
“I’m a competitor and a sore loser,” Gaucho coach Carlene Mitchell said, “but I’m extremely proud of the effort. The effort was there.”
Mitchell, a former point guard herself, enjoys working with this year’s team. She starts four guards — a feisty 5′5″ pair, the senior Nesbit and freshman Onome Jemerigbe; and 5′8″ seniors Destini Mason and Melissa Zornig. They handle the ball well, averaging fewer than 10 turnovers in their last three games, and they push it down the floor. The Gauchos’ scoring average, despite the Arizona game where they made only 37 percent of their shots, is 68 points a game — 17 higher than last year, when the offense revolved around senior post players.
“We have to press and get easy baskets,” Mitchell said. “We can’t grind away in the half court. It’s refreshing not to hear that shot-clock count from the fans.” Too many times last year, UCSB failed to get off a shot in the allotted 30 seconds.
The addition of Jemerigbe, a dynamo who played on two state championship teams at St. Mary’s High in Stockton, has given UCSB a boost of speed. “I’m a fast-paced person,” she said. “When Nic [Nesbit] and I are on the court, we’re very fast. She’s been a leading point guard, and everything she does, I try to incorporate.” Nesbit, with a deadly pull-up jumper, is more of a scorer, but both of them look for opportunities to penetrate the defenses. “We attack, attack, attack,” Jemerigbe said. “Whenever we see gaps, we attack the basket.”
Defense is where many of the attacks begin. Jemerigbe had a key steal and layup in UCSB’s 67-62 victory at Santa Clara last weekend. The Gauchos got double-digit scoring from Nesbit (19 points), Zornig (18), and Mason (13, along with 10 rebounds). “It’s amazing,” Mitchell said. “We had 16 offensive rebounds. Destini was guarding a 6′4″ player. We’re smaller, but we’re quicker to the loose balls.”
UCSB’s women returned home this week with a Tuesday-night game against Hampton (Va.), a team that won 28 games last year, and they will host San Diego State on Saturday afternoon, November 30. “They’re going to be a monster,” Mitchell said of the Aztecs, who start four forwards taller than six feet.
The Gaucho men, meanwhile, play host to South Dakota State on Friday night. Sophomore forward Taran Brown had a hot hand in Colorado, draining seven three-point shots for a career-high 23 points. The team also has benefited from a tandem of small but quick point guards, freshman Eric Childress and JC transfer Zalmico Harmon.
Next week, the Gaucho men will play two significant games — Tuesday, December 3, at UCLA; and Friday, December 6, the Cal Golden Bears visit the Thunderdome.
WESTMONT HOOPS: When the Freed-Hardeman Lions came into Westmont College’s Murchison Gym last Saturday, the Warrior women knew they’d be in for a game. Last March, they knocked the Tennessee team, then ranked No. 1, out of the NAIA tournament. Westmont won the national championship. “They’ve been looking for this game since then,” Warriors coach Kirsten Moore said after Freed-Hardeman scored a 69-57 victory. “We gave them too many extra chances [20 offensive rebounds]. These teams are going to make you pay.”
Westmont is forging ahead without its superstar of the past two seasons. Tuğçe Canıtez is playing professionally in her native Turkey. Senior forward Kelsie Sampson said Canıtez made an impact on all the returning players. “She was our bread and butter,” said Sampson, who scored 18 points against Freed-Hardeman. “She was a consistent presence on the floor, every game, every practice. We need every player to step up this year.”
Westmont defeated Pomona-Pitzer, 77-69, in a late-Saturday men’s game. Senior forward C.J. Miller and redshirt freshman guard Billy Keller led the Warriors, who trailed at halftime. Fans will have plenty of opportunities to see Westmont hoops in December, when the men and women each will play six home games.
GOING NATIONAL: Westmont made the most of its opening-round games in the NAIA Women’s Soccer and Volleyball National Championships on Saturday. After playing Westminster (Utah) to a 2-2 tie in regulation and two overtime periods, the No. 3–ranked soccer team won a penalty-kick shoot-out by a score of 4-1. The difference was a pair of saves by Westmont goalkeeper Lindsey Smith. The Warriors take a 15-1-4 record next week to Orange Beach, Alabama, where the rest of the nationals will be played.
Before the shoot-outs were introduced to break ties in college play-offs, one of the longest soccer games in history occurred in the 1976 NAIA men’s semifinals at the Rose Bowl. Simon Fraser scored in the 14th overtime period to defeat Quincy 1-0, minutes before Pasadena police enforced a 1 a.m. curfew.
Westmont’s No. 14 volleyball team will move on to the nationals in Sioux City, Iowa, after defeating Menlo College in four sets.
Meanwhile, UCSB is taking dead aim at the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament. After sweeping a pair of Big West matches last weekend, the Gauchos are alone in first place. They can clinch the title by winning one of their last regular-season matches on the road at Long Beach State and UC Irvine.