Lively Gauchos Take Down UC Irvine, 71-52

Danae Miller's 20 points, five assists, and four steals were crucial in the Gauchos' 71-52 win over UC Irvine on Saturday. (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Danae Miller's 20 points, five assists, and four steals were crucial in the Gauchos' 71-52 win over UC Irvine on Saturday. (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – For the second straight Saturday, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team showed its resilience, bouncing back from a tough loss earlier in the week to pick up a win over a top-three Big West team. This time, it was second place UC Irvine that the Gauchos were able to take down at home, besting the Anteaters 71-52 behind 21 points from Coco Miller and 20 from Danae Miller.

The win puts the Gauchos at 6-18 overall and 3-8 in Big West play. Irvine, which entered Saturday with the highest overall winning percentage in the conference, drops to 16-6 overall, 6-4 Big West.

"We did a good job of never letting them get in a good rhythm, which was important early because that's what got us in trouble at their place," said UCSB Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson, "both teams were in foul trouble but I thought that the players managed that effectively and confidently."

A slow-paced first half with a lot of fouls on both sides would see the Anteaters take an 18-14 lead on a Jordan Sanders free throw at the 6:40 mark of the second quarter. Sanders led all players with 25 points and nine rebounds.

From there, UCSB would take over, playing some of its best basketball of the season the rest of the way. The Gauchos embarked on a 19-2 second quarter run, taking a 33-20 lead on a Kiana Vierra jumper with their final possession of the opening half.

The backcourt duo of Coco and Danae Miller would be the stars of the second half, as UCSB grew its lead to as high as 17 points late in the third. Coco would put up 18 of her team-high 21 points in the second half alone on 6-of-7 shooting.

In the fourth, both Millers would combine for 18 of UCSB's 20 points. Coco finished 7-of-13 from the field. Danae meanwhile never missed a shot, going a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and 8-for-8 from the free throw line. She also added five rebounds and game-highs of five assists and four steals in 39 minutes.

"This was Danae's best game of the year. I'm really proud of how confidently and aggressively she played," added Henrickson.

Playing some of their most inspired basketball on both ends, Santa Barbara would get out on the break often in the second half. Their 71 points would set a new conference season-high in the scoring department, topping their previous high of 68, set in their first meeting with UCI back in late January.

Active and energetic on defense, the Gauchos would hold Irvine to just 52 points, the second-fewest UCSB has allowed during Big West play. The Gauchos also set new opponent season-lows in both field goal percentage (.321) and three-point percentage (.143).

Tal Sahar was the Gauchos' third-leading scorer with eight points. She put together a great stretch in the first half, scoring six unanswered capped off by a strong finish at the rim for a three-point play to kickstart UCSB's 19-2 run and give her team the lead for good.

Junior center Natalia Bruening finished with seven points on 3-of-5 from the field. Her frontcourt counterpart Megan Ormiston added six points and six boards in 29 minutes off the bench.

In what was a tightly called game throughout, both teams would set new season-highs in the foul department, picking up 26 fouls each. UCSB would do a good deal of damage from the foul line, going 22-of-27 (.815) on free throws, another conference best.

The Gauchos had just one fewer turnover (17 to 18) than the Anteaters, but managed to nearly double them in points off giveaways, 22-12. They also won the rebound battle 34 to 31.

At the time of the win, UCSB moves ahead of Cal Poly (5-16, 2-8) for the No. 8 seed in the conference. The Mustangs could move back into a tie for the No. 8 seed with a win over UC Riverside tonight.

Santa Barbara will head back on the road for both games next week, traveling to Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, Feb. 21 and Long Beach State on Saturday.