OREM, Utah – The UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team opened its 2018-19 regular season at Utah Valley's UCCU Center on Tuesday morning, seeing six new players on a revamped Gaucho roster make their UCSB debuts.
Unfortunately for the Gauchos (0-1), a pair of 20-point efforts from Bri Anugwom (21 points) and Natalia Bruening (20) were not enough to claim a season-opening victory for the second straight year, as the Wolverines (1-0) pulled away midway through the game en route to a 63-54 win.
All 54 of UCSB's points were scored by its starters. Redshirt junior guard Coco Miller ended her day with nine points on 4-of-9 shooting in her first game back after missing all of last year due to injury. Guards Tal Sahar and Paris Jones were the only other Gauchos to scratch, scoring two points each.
The Gauchos led briefly, 18-15, after a 5-0 run by Anugwom put them up for the first time early in the second quarter. The advantage would not last much longer than a minute, as the Wolverines took what proved to be UCSB's only lead of the day back on a jumper by forward Eve Braslis at the 7:26 mark.
For those wondering how the Gauchos would fill the void left by 2017-18 All Big West First Team forward Drew Edelman, who served as the offense's focal point the past two seasons, Bruening did little other than to silence potential early-season concerns. The third-year center out of Newport Beach, Calif. was extremely effective in the paint, finishing an efficient 9-of-14 (.643) from the field while pulling down 11 boards with one blocked shot. Prior to Tuesday's career-best 21-point outburst, she had reached double-figures in either points or rebounds just one time each in her career.
Bruening would keep the Gauchos close following a 9-2 second quarter UVU run, converting four layups in five minutes to tie things up at 28-28. She nearly secured her first career double-double in the first half alone, heading into the break with 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Wolverines would end the first half with five unanswered points, which would turn into a 17-4 run and a 13-point lead as the Gaucho offense struggled early in the second half. Utah Valley just barely outshot UCSB 40.7 to 40.0 percent on the day, but the Gauchos dug themselves into a hole with a 2-for-12 (.167) combined shooting mark in the third quarter.
Facing an uphill battle down the stretch, the tandem of Anugwom and Bruening would take over, as they led a 12-4 UCSB run to cut the lead to just six points at 56-50 with 2:24 remaining. The Gaucho duo went a perfect 7-for-7 in the final period for 14 points, but it wasn't enough to erase a 14-point fourth quarter deficit.
On a day where Santa Barbara went 4-for-24 from three-point range as a team, Anugwom knocked down 3-of-5 (.600) herself. The sophomore guard from West Los Angeles CC finished with team-highs in assists (4) and steals (3), while going an outstanding 8-for-12 (.667) on field goals. Coco Miller matched her for team-high honors with four assists, while knocking down the Gauchos' only other triple.
UCSB's bench comprised of former Ventura College guard Celeste Salazar and freshmen Lauren Lee, Kiana Vierra and Megan Ormiston went without a point in 44 total minutes on four shot attempts. Since she joined the team beginning in the 2015-16 season, fourth year head coach Bonnie Henrickson's bench had never before scored below four points. On a positive note, Lee was productive in other ways in her bench-high 21 minutes, pulling down two offensive rebounds and five total – both second on the team to Bruening – to go along with two assists and a steal.
Next up for the Gauchos will be a Friday night matchup with Cal State Bakersfield in UCSB's home season-opener later this week. The game is set to begin at 7:00 p.m. at The Thunderdome.