December 29, 2007

Gauchos Earn Split At Holiday Classic With 74-66 Win Over Mississippi

Dec. 29, 2007

Box Score

MISSOULA, Mont. - After losing to Montana by 18 points in the Lady Griz Holiday Classic opener Friday, UC Santa Barbara bounced back to win its second and final game of the three-team event, defeating the University of Mississippi 74-66 Saturday night at Dahlberg Arena.

With the win, the Gauchos earned a split on their trip to Montana and enter Big West Conference play next week on a winning note. Santa Barbara responded after one of its more forgettable performances in the 88-70 defeat to the Lady Griz Friday and improved to 5-6 overall this season with an inspired victory. Ole Miss falls to 5-6 after dropping its second consecutive contest and will take on host Montana tomorrow night.

After just one player reached double figures in Friday's loss, three Gauchos scored 10 or more against the Rebels. Senior guard Chisa Ononiwu shook off an 0-for-4 scoreless effort against the Griz and bounced back to lead UCSB with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting. She also finished with six rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes off the bench. Ononiwu has now scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games.

Junior center Kat Suderman turned in one of her best performances of the season in the middle, finishing a very effective 7-of-9 from the floor for 15 points, one shy of her season high. The San Luis Obispo, Calif. native also hauled in a game-high seven rebounds, which tied her season mark that came against Portland State earlier this month.

Also tallying double figures was junior guard Lauren Pedersen, who had her best game as a Gaucho. The transfer from UCLA was in the starting lineup for the fourth time this season and finished with a career-high 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Pedersen was 2-of-4 from behind the three-point arc for the second night in a row and dished out a game-high four assists. Her previous high in the blue and gold was six points that came in UCSB's win over Pepperdine.

Whitney Warren had another productive game for UCSB, finishing with eight points, six rebounds, and two assists in a season-high 33 minutes.

Bianca Thomas scored a game-high 22 points off the bench to lead Ole Miss, finishing 6-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-5 from distance. Junior center Shawn Goff was effective in the post for the Rebels, scoring 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting and sophomore guard Shantell Black chipped in with 10.

Much like they did Friday against Montana, the Gauchos struggled out of the gates and fell behind early. It took UCSB several minutes to crack the Rebels' half court trap and Santa Barbara trailed 8-4 following a jumper from Black at the 15:17 mark.

But the Gauchos found their stride and took the lead for good at 9-8 less than two minutes later following a Pedersen triple and a layup by Jessica Wilson. UCSB used solid defense and excellent execution to break Ole Miss' pressure and built a five point advantage at 17-12 following a long jumper from Ononiwu with 9:37 remaining in the first half.

Santa Barbara's advantage reached eight points (26-18) four minutes later after two Warren free-throws and the Gauchos went on to close the first half on an 11-4 run after Mississippi had cut the deficit to four with 3:58 left to play. Thomas hit a triple to bring the Rebels within 26-22, but Jordan Franey responded with a three of her own and Ononiwu connected from outside again to put the Gauchos back on top by nine, 31-22.

UCSB went into the locker room with a 37-26 advantage.

The Gauchos won the first four minutes of the second half, taking their biggest lead of the game at 48-32 with 16:03 left to play, but the Rebels hung close, shooting 19 second half free-throws and converting 13.

Santa Barbara's cushion did not dip below 12 points until Ole Miss scored seven straight - four of which came from Black - to pull within eight at 60-52 with 7:39 remaining. After the Gauchos answered and went back in front by 12 following an Ononiwu jumper in the lane, the Rebels trimmed the deficit to just seven (68-61) once again a little more than three minutes later.

But UCSB was able to respond once more as Ononiwu hit a big jumper with the shot clock winding down on the next possession and Santa Barbara held on for the 74-66 victory.

For the game, the Gauchos shot 43.1% (31-72), while the Rebels finished at 39% (23-59). Ole Miss was 16-of-23 at the free-throw line, 69.6%, compared to just 8-of-9, 89%, for UCSB, but Santa Barbara controlled the glass, holding a 43-35 advantage.

22 of those came on the offensive end of the floor.

"I thought we came out with tremendous energy and intensity," head coach Mark French said. "We did an excellent job of swarming on the offensive glass and I'm very proud of the way our kids responded tonight. We obviously wanted to leave here with a split after last night's performance and we picked up an important win heading into conference play next week."

The Gauchos' quest for a 12th Big West Conference title in the last 13 years begins Thursday, January 3 at Long Beach State. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.