For the second straight game, an outstanding defensive performance in the second half proved to be the difference for the UCSB women’s basketball team.
Trailing by as many 20 points in the third quarter, the Gauchos flipped the script on visiting Hawaii and downed the Rainbow Wahine, 72-69, behind an impressive 25-point third quarter. It was UCSB’s highest output in a single period since scoring 32 in the second quarter against Cal Lutheran earlier this year.
“(Hawaii) had great rhythm, they popped this and punched us, but we had resolve and resiliency and stayed together. We didn’t give in and once we got momentum, we kept it,” UCSB coach Bonnie Henrickson said after the game.
Santa Barbara improved to 14-5 overall record with a 7-2 conference record, keeping pace with Long Beach State, which also holds a 7-2 Big West record.
The Gauchos will host Long Beach for the first time this season on Feb. 9.
Hawaii fell to 7-11 overall with a 5-4 conference record.
Tied at 67-67 in the fourth quarter, senior forward Ila Lane made one of the biggest plays of the season, corralling an offensive board and putting the ball back up to give her team a 69-67 lead with 37 seconds remaining.
From there, the Gauchos were able to play defense and knock down free throws to ice the game.
Lane grabbed six offensive boards in the second half alone and finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“We needed them,” Lane said when asked about her offensive rebounding. “When you get a board, it feels great. I just decide and feel if I can make the play and the put-back or if I kick it out. But it feels great.”
Early on, it was all Hawaii. The Rainbow Wahine knocked down four of their first nine shots to take an 11-0 lead with 4:20 remaining in the first.
A layup from junior guard Alexis Tucker — who proved to be pivotal in the contest — cut the lead down to five with 1:23 left in the first quarter. A 5-2 sprint by Hawaii gave it a 20-12 lead after one.
Tucker shot 1-for-5 in the first quarter, that late layup being her only basket. But from then on, she was lights out, knocking down 7 of her final 12 shots to finish with a game-high 23 points, including nine in the second quarter.
“I just had a lot of encouragement from my coaches, my teammates and this guy was on the side talking to me, still encouraging me. The looks I had were good looks and they were open and I kind of figured they were going to keep playing me that way,” Tucker said.
But despite Tucker’s 11, the Gauchos were still unable to cut into Hawaii’s lead, trailing 40-28 heading into the break.
“It wasn’t about what they were running or what we were running, it was about how they were running and how we were running,” Henrickson said.
The second half didn’t start much better.
Within the first three minutes, Hawaii outscored UCSB 11-3 to take a commanding 51-31 lead.
“They were in great rhythm and when you’re up 20, you feel good, even I feel like I could make a three,” Henrickson said.
But somehow the Gauchos fought back. Their run started with a pair of layups from Lane, followed by a steal and score by Callie Cooper.
The transfer guard played a pivotal role, leading the Gauchos with seven assists and also three steals, accounting for one-third of the team’s total.
A three by Hawaii extended the lead back to 16 with 2:26 remaining, at 57-41, but the Gauchos went on a 12-0 run the rest of the way to trail by just four heading into the final frame.
In the fourth quarter, a layup by Alexis Whitfield cut the lead to two, and then a three from Tucker gave UCSB its first lead of the contest at 58-57. Whitfield finished with 11 points.
A layup from guard Alyssa Marin, who also finished with 11 points, followed by another score from Lane extended the Gauchos’ lead to five.
Hawaii battled back, as back-to-back threes from Meilani McBee tied the game at 67-all with 57 seconds remaining.
Ultimately, the Gauchos came away with the victory, as Lane’s layup proved to be the difference.
Tucker missed the shot that Lane eventually rebounded, but the play was designed to have Lane there for that possibility.
“I have extreme confidence in all my teammates and especially Ila. She leads the league in rebounding and I know she can make that play,” Tucker said.
Henrickson lamented that the team does have to get out to quicker starts and avoid trailing by such a wide margin.
In the fourth quarter at Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday, it took a 18-7 fourth quarter for the Gauchos to come away with a four-point win.
“We are cardiac kids, I guess,” said Henrickson.
UCSB will travel to face Cal Poly next Thursday at 6 p.m.