What, the Gauchos worry? Hardly.
UCSB jumped out to a 25-point first-half lead and cruised to a 59-37 victory in the Gauchos’ first home game in nearly a month. UCSB improves to 2-3 with the win — with both victories coming at the Thunderdome — while Nevada falls to 4-4.
“We talked all week about our intensity level,” said first-year UCSB head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who picked up her second career coaching victory. “We were able to capitalize off our defensive intensity and really execute on offense. I feel like when you’re playing with that kind of heart and passion and communication, all of a sudden the shots fall. I don’t think it’s luck. When you’re playing like that, the basket gets a little bigger.”
It sure seemed like it from the start. UCSB scored the first nine points of the game, forcing six Nevada turnovers in the first three minutes, two seconds of the game. After the Wolf Pack cut the lead to 9-5, the Gauchos exploded into a 21-0 run, fueled by four consecutive three-pointers from Emilie Johnson and Lauren Pedersen.
Pedersen again led the Gauchos in scoring — the fourth time in five games — with 15 points while Johnson had 12. Whitney Warren made it a trifecta of players in double figures with 10 points.
Johnson, who has started all five games as a freshman point guard — only the third freshman point guard in more than a decade to do so in the blue and gold — had three assists, a steal and knocked down two three-pointers.
“I’m throwing her into a situation where we’ve played two Pac-10 teams and played on the road, and she plays 40 minutes and handles pressure and all she does is get better every game,” Gottlieb said. “I know these minutes are going to help her, and she didn’t look like a freshman at all tonight. She made hustle plays and controlled the team, and I just couldn’t be more proud.”
The Gauchos took a 38-12 lead into halftime and didn’t ease off the gas pedal in the second half. Warren made a pair of buckets, Kat Suderman chipped in with a jumper, Ariana Gnekow made a free throw and Pedersen added a basket to make it 51-28.
UCSB used a new starting lineup for the game with sixth-year senior Jenna Green making her first start of the season and sophomore Margaret Johnson getting the starting nod. Green had four points and three rebounds, while Margaret Johnson added two points and six rebounds. Suderman finished with six points and five boards.
Of note, Pedersen went 2-for-2 from the free throw line, extending her school record to 20 straight free throws to open the season, and Emilie Johnson has not missed in all eight of her tries this season.
Courtney Collishaw scored the first points of her career, too, by knocking down a pair of free throws in her four minutes on the floor — her first appearance at the Thunderdome after sitting out last season with a knee injury.
The Gauchos continue their homestand at 2 p.m. Sunday when they host Gonzaga. The first 500 fans receive free foam fingers, and all youths age 13 or younger will get in free.
Matt Hurst is a UCSB assistant director of athletics communications.