Gauchos Gut it Out, Come Back to Beat League-Leading Pacific

Sweets Underwood (By Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)
Sweets Underwood (By Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)

STOCKTON, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara came back from a double-digit deficit in the second half to defeat Big West Conference-leading Pacific, 52-47, at the Tigers' Alex G. Spanos Center on Saturday evening. 

Trailing by 13 points at 36-23 with 13:51 to go in the game, junior Nicole Nesbit went on a four-point run put the Gauchos within nine at 36-27.

UCSB continued to battle, and a layup by junior Melissa Zornig began a 13-0 run – fueled by six points from senior Sweets Underwood – which gave UCSB its first and biggest lead of the game at 46-42 with 2:36 to go. 

A third-chance layup by Ashley Smith put the Tigers back within two and after a timeout, Kendall Rodriguez hit a three to regain the lead for the home team at 47-46 to with 59 ticks left on the clock.

Underwood was able to draw a foul on the offensive end and calmly sank her first free-throw to tie the game. Pacific called a timeout, but the break didn't rattle the senior as she swiftly downed her second try to put the Gauchos back on top.

With one possession remaining, Ashley Wakefield missed the layup that could have captured the lead for the Tigers with 23 seconds to go and Underwood was there to grab her career-high 16th rebound of the game. 

The Gauchos' top free-throw shooter, Nesbit, was fouled after the Gauchos put the ball into play and the junior calmly downed her fifth and sixth attempts from the charity stripe to put UCSB up, 50-47.

On Pacific's final attempt to tie the game, Kendall Rodriguez put up a three-point attempt with seven seconds to go that was quickly swatted away by Kirsten Tilleman.

"We knew exactly what play they were going to run," head coach Carlene Mitchell said. "They ran that exact play last-second against Cal Poly. I've never watched film on game day and we watched it this morning. We showed the team that play and we knew they were going to run it, so we were there."

With .40 seconds to go, Nesbit once again was fouled and finished her perfect day at the line, sealing the 52-47 victory. 

UCSB started off slow in the game's opening minutes, as it failed to make its first seven shots. The Tigers were able to grab the early lead behind an 8-0 run, but UCSB quickly countered with a 7-0 run of its own, fueled by five points from Zornig to make it a one-point game with 14:12 on the clock.

As quickly as they got hot, the Gauchos went cold again and Pacific went on a 10-0 run over a 5:31 period to gain its biggest lead of the game at the halfway point. That lead was pushed to 13 points when Kendall Kenyon hit a jumper with 4:05 to play to put the Tigers up, 24-11. UCSB was able to end the half with a 7-2 run to trail, 26-18, heading into the locker rooms.

Zornig led all players with 10 of her game-high 18 points in the first half. The Gauchos struggled as a collective unit in the first stanza, hitting just 6-of-26 shots (23.1%) from the field while Pacific made 11-of-28 shots (39.3%) and had six steals.

The second half saw UCSB hit 10-of-25 attempts (40%) as it ended the game shooting 31.4%. The Gauchos went 4-for-6 (66.7%) from the three-point range and made 16-of-17 (94.1%) attempts from the charity stripe.

"Playing on the road you can face a lot of diversity," Mitchell said. "I think our kids were backed into a corner and they came out fighting. It was obvious, when we saw the turn in their body language, that they were going to refuse to lose."

The Gauchos were able to out-rebound the Tigers, 39-36, led by Underwood's career-high, 12 of which came in the second half. After turning the ball over 10 times in the first, UCSB had just three turnovers in the second. 

Underwood finished the game with her ninth double-double of the year and second straight after putting up 14 points to go with her 16 boards. Nesbit finished with 13 points. Tilleman, meanwhile, had eight boards, six points, three assists and a career-high-tying four steals.

The Tigers were led by Kendall Rodriguez's 10 points and Kendall Kenyon finished with a team-high 11 boards. 

The win improves the Gauchos' record to 11-12 overall and 7-4 in Big West games. The Tigers, meanwhile, fall to 18-5 and 8-3 in league.

After opening the season 8-0 at home, Pacific has dropped two straight at Alex G. Spanos Center. UCSB, on the other hand, has won its last four straight on the road. 

This marks the Gauchos' second come-from-behind win. Its first was at Hawai'i on Jan. 26. 

UCSB will return home to host Blue-Green rival Cal Poly on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. in the Thunderdome. The contest will serve as the Gauchos' annual Play 4Kay game, which is held to help raise breast cancer awareness. Each UCSB women's basketball player will decorate and wear a special pink warm-up shirt that will be available for purchase through a silent auction with the proceeds going towards cancer research. 

Additionally, pink pom-poms will be given away at the door and 10% of all purchases will go to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

The 2013 Play 4Kay initiative (formerly known as WBCA Pink Zone) is an opportunity for a nation of coaches to raise breast cancer awareness and funds for research on the court, across campuses, in communities and beyond.

Since its inception in 2007, the Play 4Kay initiative has raised over $2 million to support women's cancer research. The Kay Yow Cancer Fund is the official charity of the initiative.

Tickets to UCSB women's basketball games are available by visiting the Ticket Office in the ICA Building, by calling (805) 893-UCSB or online by clicking here.