October 31, 2007

Shorthanded Gauchos Erupt In Second Half, Defeat Vanguard 94-77

Oct. 31, 2007

Box Score

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - While the first half wasn't exactly a memorable one, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team shot a blistering 78.3% in the second on the way to a 94-77 victory over visiting Vanguard University in an exhibition game Wednesday night in the Thunderdome. Chisa Ononiwu scored 18 points to lead five Gauchos in double figures in the win.

With Jenna Green sitting out with a bad back and Jessica Wilson on the sidelines because of a violation of team rules, Santa Barbara was forced to tip off against the NAIA power Lions with a starting lineup that featured two new faces. In the end, the shorthanded Gauchos got great performances from several key players and held a commanding 41-12 advantage in bench scoring.

After shooting a woeful 35.9% (14-39) in the first half, UCSB got things going after intermission, making 18 of its 23 second half shots, 78.3%, to erase a 49-44 halftime deficit.

Ononiwu's 18 points came on 8-for-13 shooting to lead all Gaucho scorers. Sophomore guard Ariana Gnekow was very impressive off the bench, shooting 4-of-7 overall and hit both of her three-point attempts to finish with 15 points, which is four more than her season-high of 11 in 2006-07. Sophomore forward Jordan Franey tallied 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting and hauled in a team-high eight rebounds.

Junior forward Kat Suderman had an excellent performance in her first game since the 2005-06 season, finishing 5-of-7 from the floor for 12 points, while junior point guard Lauren Pedersen also wowed the Thunderdome crowd in her Gaucho debut, scoring 10 points and dishing out nine assists. The transfer from UCLA also recorded a game-high four steals.

Junior forward Melissa Rivera led all scorers with 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting for Vanguard, while 2006-07 NAIA Player of the Year Jessica Richter finished with 19. No other Lion scored more than seven.

The Gauchos jumped out in front early and took a 10-5 lead following a Sha'Rae Gibbons' triple 4:20 into the game, but the Lions got it going and used a 13-5 spurt over the next four minutes to tie the game at 18 following a free throw from Lindsey Rinke. Vanguard outscored UCSB 31-26 over the final 11:04 of the first half and led by as many as 12 points at 47-35 with 2:24 remaining.

The Lions made 17 of 36 first half shots, 47.2%, and held a 27-21 advantage on the glass.

Santa Barbara opened the second half on a run of its own, outscoring the visitors 25-14 to take 69-63 lead with 10:25 remaining. Franey scored seven of her 14 points during the decisive nine-minute stretch and Pedersen showed her ability to push the tempo and create easy looks for her teammates.

The Gauchos' led by nine at 72-63 following a three pointer from Pedersen less than a minute later and two Franey free throws pushed it to 11 at 74-63 with 8:59 left to play. After consecutive buckets by Vanguard to cut the deficit to seven, freshman center Ashlee Brown hit one of two at the free throw line, Ononiwu hit a jumper, Pedersen nailed a pair from the stripe, and Franey scored inside to push the Santa Barbara advantage back to 12 at 81-69 with 6:19 left on the clock.

The Lions would not get any closer than nine the rest of the way and the Gauchos scored 13 of the final 15 points to take their biggest lead of the game at the final horn.

UCSB shot 32-of-62, 51.6% for the game, while Vanguard finished 25-of-62, 40.3%. The Gauchos shot 50% from three-point distance, hitting half of their 14 attempts, while the Lions hit just 4-of-21, 19%.

After getting hammered on the boards in the first half, Santa Barbara posted a 15-11 advantage on the glass in the decisive second.

"We definitely got after better defensively in the second half," head coach Mark French said. "Our post defense was pretty poor in the first half and we were probably a little too excited early on, but we were much closer to where we need to be in the second half. If we continue to improved our post defense and rebounding we'll be in good shape when the regular season opens."

The Gauchos will have the opportunity to do just that when they take on Westmont in a battle for Santa Barbara bragging rights this Saturday in the Thunderdome in their in their final exhibition game of the season. Tip off is slated for 2:00 p.m.