FULLERTON, Calif. – A win is a win, and though it wasn't pretty, UC Santa Barbara will take it.
Used to playing in close games, the Gauchos utilized that experience on Saturday afternoon to rally and defeat Cal State Fullerton, 39-37 and extend one of the nation's longest winning streaks over one team.
The victory improved the Gauchos' record to 6-7 overall and 1-1 in the Big West, but more importantly, it counted as victory No. 38 in a row over the Titans, a streak that dates back to 1995. That counts as the fifth-longest winning streak in the nation by one opponent over a conference foe.
But to even get there, UCSB needed to tap into their experience from playing in so many tight and late game scenarios. Saturday's affair was the eighth game this season decided by five or fewer points. Santa Barbara came out the victor, though, after relying on a couple of veterans.
Trailing throughout the second half, the Gauchos took their first lead since 4:49 remained in the first half on Emilie Johnson's 27-foot three-pointer to beat the shot clock with 2:30 left. Her trey – her third of the game – gave UCSB a 35-33 lead.
A quick bucket by Fullerton tied things up with 1:22 to play but Johnson found Kirsten Tilleman for a layin with under a minute left and then Johnson hit two free throws to ice the game.
Tilleman, meanwhile, may very well prove to be the individual who serves as a microcosm of Saturday's game.
She missed two early layup attempts but did not let that affect her game as she took three charges, grabbed 12 rebounds and had a key block late in the game. It was only when it mattered late in the game, when she had her two field goals.
Equally important to the Gauchos was how well they played defensively against one of the Big West's best scorers. Megan Richardson, who is second in the league in scoring, was held to 14 points with only four coming in the second half. Mya Olivier scored 10 points and had eight rebounds for the Titans (7-8, 1-3).
UCSB returns home after nearly a month away from the Thunderdome with a Thursday game against UC Irvine at 7 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 893-UCSB or by clicking here.
You can listen live online by clicking here, or in Santa Barbara on AM 990 with the pregame show starting a half-hour prior to tip-off.