HONOLULU – Trailing by two with 14 seconds to go, UC Santa Barbara’s Nicole Nesbit picked up a screen from Sweets Underwood, drove up the right side and sunk what would be the game-winning basket to propel the Gauchos to a 51-50 victory over Hawai’i on Saturday evening in the Stan Sherrif Center.
The UCSB victory marked firsts for both programs. The Gauchos secured their first come-from-behind win of the year while the Rainbow Wahine dropped their first Big West home game this season.
With the win, UCSB now stands at 8-11 on the season and 4-3 in Big West games. The Rainbow Wahine are now 9-10 overall and 5-3 in league games. Seven games into league play; UCSB currently is in a three-way tie for fourth-place with Long Beach State and Cal Poly.
“This is a huge win for our team, I am not going to lie,” head coach Carlene Mitchell said. “This was a tough two-game road stretch, and it was great to win here in a hostile environment, with their great fan support. To find a way to pull this out, it’s a great win and a great way to go home.”
Junior Melissa Zornig’s 15 points and four assists led the Gauchos. She went 7-for-10 from the field. Underwood, meanwhile, finished with 13 points and four rebounds. Senior Kirsten Tilleman led the Gauchos with nine boards and two blocks. Nesbit finished with nine points.
UCSB shot 47.8% from the field (22-of-46), which marks their best performance thus far in Big West play.
Nesbit had opened the game with a jumper on the first possession to ignite an 11-2 Gaucho run to start the game. Hawai’i was able to counter with a 12-2 run of its own to take its first lead of the game at 14-13 with 11:07 on the clock prompting a UCSB timeout.
The Gauchos regained the lead out of the break with a 5-0 run. The Rainbow Wahine continued to bite at UCSB’s heels and with 4:41 left in the half, Marissa Wimbley sunk a three-pointer to once again regain Hawai’i's advantage, 22-19. A pair of jumpers by sophomore Madeline Campbell and senior Angelei Aguire momentarily pushed the Gauchos ahead, but another three by Wimbley with 56 seconds to go gave Hawai’i the 25-23 edge heading into the locker rooms.
While the Gauchos made six of their first eight field goal attempts in the opening minutes of the game, their offense significantly cooled as they made just 4-of-13 to end the half. UCSB did post a 47.6% field goal percentage in the opening stanza while limiting Hawai’i to just 10-of-30 (33.3%).
The Rainbow Wahine built to their biggest lead of the game at 35-29 with 12:34 to go in the second half, but the Gauchos were able to keep the score tight and with 7:42 on the clock, Tilleman hit a jumper to give UCSB its first lead of the half, 39-38.
The seesaw battle continued into the waning minutes of the game as the teams traded the lead. Hawai’i got its final lead – 50-49 – with 1:34 on the clock off of a lay-up by Vicky Tagalicod.
On a Rainbow Wahine possession, Tilleman stole the ball and quickly called a timeout with 43.1 seconds remaining. Out of the timeout, Nesbit shot a long two that hit the rim, but Tilleman scrambled for the rebound and was fouled in the process. The senior’s free-throw rimmed out, but she was once again there to grab the rebound. She dished the ball to Nesbit, who drove to the basket for the winning lay-up.
“I saw a lot of great things after Northridge and even though we beat them handily, it’s still nice to see the team come together and hold each other accountable,” Mitchell said. “They understand how good we can be and they are really starting to buy into that as the season progresses.”
Kamilah Martin led Hawai’i with 14 points and seven rebounds. Tagalicod provided 11 points off the bench for the Rainbow Wahine, who shot 40.7% (22-for-54) from the field and out-rebounded the Gauchos, 29-26.
“Hawai’i is a tough team, they made us play defense for 30 seconds,” Nesbit said. “They put up some tough shots and they had a good inside presence. I think we did a pretty good job on the defensive end and we took care of business tonight.”
The Gauchos will return home to the Thunderdome next week to host UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton. The Highlanders will come to town on Thursday, Jan. 31 for a 7 p.m. match-up and the Titans will visit on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 2 p.m.