Miller Catches Fire, Gauchos Knock Off Dartmouth 62-56 for First Win

Coco Miller (Photo by Jeilo Gauna)
Coco Miller (Photo by Jeilo Gauna)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team came out firing in Sunday afternoon's Lady Rebel Round-Up third-place game, defeating Dartmouth 62-56 to claim its first win of the season.

The Gauchos (1-5) ended a five-game skid thanks in large part to their most dominant first half of the season. After making 75 percent (9-12 FG) of their shots in the first quarter, they would head into the break leading the Big Green (2-2) 34-20. No player was hotter over the opening 20 minutes than Coco Miller, who hit five of her first six three-point attempts before halftime.

Going for her second 20-point effort in three games, Miller led all players with season-highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds, notching just the second double-double of her career.

"[Miller] hit the big shot to get us up six. We were bobbing and weaving there for a minute," said head coach Bonnie Henrickson, referring to the Gauchos' final field goal of the day, a jumper by Miller which put UCSB up 58-52 with a little over a minute remaining.

Following the game, Henrickson had nothing but praise for the redshirt junior guard, who has not disappointed since taking over point guard responsibilities in recent games. Miller went 7-of-13 overall and 5-for-9 from three for her sixth career 20-point game. It was the second time in her career that she's hit five threes in a half, but the first time she's done it before halftime.

"They started to press her down the stretch. She's in the huddle talking to the team, saying, 'Listen we have one timeout, it's our ball on a jump.' Things that need to be communicated by the floor general," Henrickson said. "It was a big day for Coco."

Junior center Natalia Bruening also played huge for the Gauchos, putting up 18 points and seven boards on a perfect 6-for-6 mark from the field. That was good for the second-highest scoring total of her career.

A jumper by sophomore guard Bri Anugwom with 5:51 to go in the third extended UCSB's lead to 43-22, capping a 9-0 run which saw all five Gaucho starters score. Overall, it was a 20-6 run by UCSB going back to the first half, arguably its best stretch of play in the early season. Miller was the catalyst with 11 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting during the run.

Santa Barbara would take its foot off the gas pedal the rest of the way, allowing Dartmouth to creep back into the game. The Big Green cut the deficit to 10 points by the end of the third, 53-43, and would get as close as three points late in the fourth as the Gauchos went eight and a half minutes without a field goal. UCSB had 10 more turnovers than its opponent for the second straight game, setting a new season-high with 25 giveaways.

"We talked about it coming out of the locker room. The next step is to sustain it, to do it again," Henrickson said. "We couldn't stay on the gas and grow the lead."

The final 32 seconds provided some tension, as Dartmouth played the foul game and sent the Gauchos to the free throw line four times, each trip ending in a 1-for-2 split. Luckily for UCSB, the Big Green came up scoreless on its final three possessions, as Miller scored the final two points from the line to give her team the 62-56 win.

"Give them credit. They made a run, and we played not to lose. We got a little hesitant and tentative down the stretch," said Henrickson. "All-in-all, really good things by a lot of different players. Even some players off the bench gave us some really good minutes and were productive, and that's really important for us."

After missing the first four games of the year, sophomore guard Danae Miller made her second straight appearance off the bench, tying freshman Lauren Lee for team-high honors with two steals in 13 minutes. Anugwom was the Gauchos' third-leading scorer with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting.

Earning her second consecutive start, junior guard Celeste Salazar made the first field goals of her D-I career, making 2-of-3 shots for four points.

As a team, UCSB recorded season-highs in field goal percentage (47.8%), rebounds (39) and assists (15). The Gauchos also outrebounded their opponent for the first time this year, enjoying a 39-24 advantage on the glass.

UCSB will be look to build some momentum from home for its next two outings as it prepares to face St. Mary's (Thursday) and Grand Canyon (Sunday) in the coming week.