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Gauchos Hold Off Irvine, 76-68

Persistent Anteaters make UCSB work for the victory, but Gauchos win fourth in a row.

After UC Irvine tied the score with 5:16 remaining, UCSB used a decisive 18-4 run to pull away for a 76-68 Big West Conference win Thursday night in the Thunderdome. Kat Suderman scored 16 points and Sha’Rae Gibbons added 15 to lead the Gauchos to their fourth-straight victory.

With the win, UCSB remains perfect in conference play at 3-0 and improved to a season-high two games over the .500 mark at 8-6 overall this season. UCI falls to 4-12 overall (0-2 Big West) after suffering its eighth-consecutive defeat.

Despite holding a 15-point first half lead, the Gauchos could not put Irvine away until the waning minutes of the game and saw several leads erased by the pesky Anteaters. UCSB scored the first eight points, with six coming from Suderman and never trailed, but Irvine refused to roll over.

The Gauchos went up 12-5 after a jumper by Chisa Ononiwu with 13:51 remaining in the first half and extended their advantage to 28-13 a little more than six minutes later. But Irvine’s Christina Zdenek knocked down a three-pointer to start a 19-4 Anteater run over the next 5:50, as UCI tied the game at 32-32 with 1:40 left in the opening period.

Gibbons answered with a triple of her own on Santa Barbara’s next possession and Ashlee Brown scored two of her eight points to stem the tide for the Gauchos, who were playing at home for the first time since Dec. 17.

UCSB shot 51.4 percent (18-35) over the first 20 minutes and took a 39-34 lead into intermission.

Irvine scored the first four points of the second half to cut the deficit to 39-38, but Ariana Gnekow, a sophomore from Santa Ynez High, grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the put-back and Jordan Franey connected with Brown inside, as the Gauchos pulled back in front by five, 43-38 with 17:31 remaining.

UCSB held onto a narrow cushion over the next 12 minutes, but the Anteaters remained within striking distance until Annie Mai and Stephanie Duda combined to score six unanswered points to tie the game at 55 with just over five minutes to play.

Gibbons then came up big for UCSB, knocking down her second triple and Meagan Williams scored on back-to-back possessions to ignite a Gaucho flurry. Seven-straight points from Jessica Wilson over the next 1:32 gave UCSB an 11-point lead, 69-58, with 1:29 remaining and the Gauchos led, 73-59, before holding on for the 76-68 final margin.

Suderman led the way for UCSB for the second time in the last three games, scoring 14 of her 16 points in the first half. She finished eight-of-13 from the floor and also tallied six rebounds, a career-high three blocks, and two steals.

Gibbons finished with 15 points, reaching double figures for the first time since Dec. 6 at Portland State. She was four-for-seven overall, including two-of-five from behind the arc, and five-of-six at the free-throw line. She also totaled three assists and a game-high four steals in 26 minutes off the bench.

Wilson went five-for-14 from the floor for 13 points to go with five boards and also recorded four steals.

UCSB shot 44.1 percent for the game and held a 35-28 advantage on the glass.

UCI shot extremely well in a losing effort, finishing 58.7 percent from the floor — a season-high for a Gaucho opponent — and had four players reach double figures. Senior forward Haley Tull led the way with 15 points in 17 minutes off the bench, while Duda scored 14, Mai finished with 12 and Zdenek chipped in with 11.

UCSB dominated the paint, outscoring UCI, 34-22, and the Gauchos’ bench bested the Anteaters’, 37-21. The Gauchos forced Irvine into 28 turnovers, which led to 29 points, while Irvine scored just four points on 12 UCSB miscues.

The Gauchos wrap up their two-game homestand against Cal State Fullerton at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Ryan Hall is UCSB‘s assistant media relations director.

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