The win marked the Gauchos’ first of the season and extends their home win streak to five straight dating back to the 2011-12 campaign. UCSB now stands at 1-1 on the season while New Mexico State is also 1-1 on the early season.
The opening minutes of the pairing were tightly contested, but UCSB was able to break a 9-9 tie with a 9-0 run, which was fueled by four points from Sweets Underwood, three from Nicole Nesbit and capped by a layup from freshman Jasmine Ware, which marked the first two of an early career-high seven points by the newcomer.
That 9-0 run was the beginning of a 17-5 push by the Gauchos that put them well ahead at 26-14 heading into the locker rooms.
During the first 20 minutes, UCSB was outstanding, shooting 43.5% from the floor (10-of-23), 50% from beyond the arc (3-of-6) and 100% from the free-throw line (3-of-3). Nesbit – who led the Gauchos with 16 points during the game – put up 11 of her points in the first stanza while Sweets Underwood contributed eight of her 11 during the first half.
UCSB also had 20 rebounds in the first, including a team leading six from Kirsten Tilleman.
They limited the Aggies to just 21.4% shooting (6-of-28) from the field and held them scoreless from the three-point range (0-of-8).
The game, however, turned out to be a tale of two halves. New Mexico State switched from man-to-man defense to a zone in the second and effectively began to chip away at the Gaucho lead.
With just under two minutes to go, Kelsie Rozendal was fouled while going up for a layup, which fell in, and then sunk her ensuing free-throw to cut the UCSB lead to three.
Underwood and Rozendaal traded a pair of layups to put the score at 41-38 with just 47 seconds to go.
The Aggies fouled Nesbit with 11 seconds on the clock and the junior calmly sank her pair of free-throws to give UCSB a five-point cushion. Danesia Williamson then hit a three-pointer to put New Mexico State one basket away from tying the game with five seconds to go, but a deflection and steal by Nesbit as the clock wound down ensured that the Aggies would not have the chance to put up a buzzer-beater.
“At the end of the day, it’s early and I don’t know if we would have won this game last year,” head coach Carlene Mitchell said. “So, that is definitely a positive. We will continue to see zones. We need to find a way to free up our kids so that they will play free and not worry about the mistakes or the shot selection against zones.”
The Gauchos out-rebounded the Aggies, 40-32, during the game and were led by Underwood, who had nine. On the flipside, UCSB turned over the ball 17 times while New Mexico State had just eight turnovers.
“They play hard every night and as a head coach, that is all you can ask for,” Mitchell said.
“The wins and losses will take care of themselves and we know that; as long as they continue to play hard every possession and believe in what we are doing.”
Following tonight’s game, UCSB will head South of the border for the 2012 Hardwood Tournament of Hope in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The Gauchos will open the tournament against Oregon State on Nov. 20 and the following day will either play Mississippi State or Winthrop. Thursday’s tournament finale will be determined by bracket play. The other teams in the tournament field are Louisville, University of Central Florida, Gonzaga and Missouri State University.
The Gauchos will round out November action on the 27th against USC at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.