Gauchos think pink, run win streak to four games

The Thunderdome was a sea of pink on Sunday afternoon as UCSB spectators, players, coaches and staff all wore the color for its annual Pink Zone game, held to raise breast cancer awareness. The Gauchos did not disappoint their rose-clad fans, as they topped visiting Seattle University, 67-57, in the non-conference match-up.

“We are really excited to get a win on Pink Zone day,” head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “It is just a really special thing for our team and our coaching staff. I think it is one of the cool things that women’s basketball does – to come together and to play for a bigger cause. So, it’s fun that we had a great crowd dressed in pink today and we are excited to get the win.”

With the win, UCSB improves to 16-10 on the season and stretches its current win streak to four games. Seattle falls to 7-20 on the year.

Four Gauchos scored in double figures to help lead UCSB to the victory.

Junior Emilie Johnson posted a team-leading 19 points, 18 coming in the first half. Senior Mekia Valentine chipped in 13 points and 17 rebounds for her 11th double-double of the season. She also had seven blocks. Nicole Nesbit and Sweets Underwood had 12 and 11 points, respectively, off the bench.

UCSB never trailed during the game and took the biggest led of the contest at 17 points with 3:39 to go in the first half off a pair of free throws by Johnson. The Gauchos shot 100 percent from the foul line in the first stanza, sinking all 10 of their attempts. Johnson led the way going 4-for-4 from the line in the first half in addition to her four three-pointers in the opening 20 minutes.

Seattle chipped away at the Gaucho lead in the second half and came within three points with 6:16 to go, following a layup by Carley Butcher. A three-pointer by Destini Mason followed by a pair of layups from Valentine pushed UCSB’s lead back to eight, but a jumper by Ashley Ward and a three-pointer from Elle Kerfoot put the Redhawks back within three with 3:32 to go.

UCSB was able to shut out Seattle down the stretch and Nesbit scored four of her 12 points to help the Gauchos secure the win.

The Gauchos remained impressive from behind the line and for the game made 15 of their 17 free throw attempts.

“There’s a collective feel of confidence,” Gottlieb said of the free throws. “Sometimes, it’s contagious. I really like that we’re getting to the line a lot, and obviously that we’re knocking them down.”

The annual Pink Zone game is an effort by women’s basketball programs across the nation to raise awareness of breast cancer and raise funds to help support research to beat the disease.

“My mother struggled with breast cancer for a lot of her life,” Valentine said. “It’s a great cause. We’re all very proud, strong women and we did justice for the cause. We were excited to come out wearing our pink gear.”

The members of the UCSB women’s basketball team – as in previous years – decorated pink shirts that were purchased by fans with all of the proceeds going to the Kay Yow Cancer Fun.

Kay Yow, former North Carolina State University head women’s basketball coach, was a past president and founding member of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), and a galvanizing voice for the Association. Yow was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, and battled the disease for the third time before her passing on January 24, 2009 at the age of 66.