UCSB, Valentine contain first-place Anteaters

IRVINE – A tremendous defensive effort by the UCSB women’s basketball team — particularly Mekia Valentine — held two of the best scorers in the Big West in check and allowed the Gauchos to knock
off first-place UC Irvine, 69-58 on Thursday night in the Bren Events Center.

Mikah Maly-Karros entered the Big West Conference contest averaging a conference-leading 19.2 points per game and her UCI teammate Jade Smith-Williams was averaging 14.5 points per game, ranking her third in the conference.

The duo combined for … 16 points.

Valentine limited Maly-Karros inside and Smith-Williams had an off night, missing eight of her 10 shots and the Gauchos held the Anteaters to just 32.8 percent shooting from the field. On top of that, UCSB limited Irvine’s second-chance opportunities by controlling the boards, outrebounding the Anteaters 44-29.

“Our gameplan was to take Smith-Williams and Maly-Karros out of it,” said head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose team improves to 9-7 overall and 3-1 in the Big West. “Mekia was phenomenal. She rose to the challenge. I thought we locked (Maly-Karros) up and I thought we our double team’s were important.”

Valentine finished with eight points and 16 rebounds and held Maly-Karros to nine points and seven rebounds. Irvine, which was ranked No. 23 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major poll, falls to 11-5 overall and 3-1 in the conference. It was the Anteaters’ first loss at home this season.

“It was a really good team effort,” said Valentine, who was the primary player guarding Maly-Karros. “Our double team was really good. They did a good job of knowing where (Maly-Karros) was, knowing where I was, and closing up the trap. “We did a good job of communicating, and getting back to the person she was trying to kick it to. I think she was frustrated because she didn’t know where the (double team) was coming from.”

Emilie Johnson led the Gauchos with 20 points and Melissa Zornig came off the bench to score a career-high 17. Zornig, who hails from nearby Coto de Caza was 7 of 9 from the field.

As a team the Gauchos shot 51 percent and continued their hot touch, which helped them overcome a season-high 29 turnovers. UCSB entered the game as the Big West’s leading team in field goal percentage and had hit 44.8 percent of its shots in its past 11 games. Santa Barbara has now won nine of its last 12 games.

Despite committing 20 first-half turnovers the Gauchos led 25-22 with Melissa Zornig hitting a mid-range jumper as time expired in the first stanza.

The Gauchos held an 11-point lead with 5:25 to go in the half, but UCI went on a quick run and Tayler Champion hit her second straight three-pointer for a 22-21 lead with 1:29 left.

UCSB did hold a 27-10 rebounding edge in the first half and held the Anteaters to a mere 26.7 percent shooting in the first half.

The Gauchos finish their road trip on Saturday at UC Riverside at 5 p.m.