Staunch Defense Leads Gauchos to 48-39 Victory Over Titans on Senior Day

Kristine Brance (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Kristine Brance (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – On Senior Day, Gaucho seniors Kristine Brance and Clair Watkins fittingly led the way for UCSB in capturing its first win of the season with a 48-39 victory over Cal State Fullerton. 

"It was great to see them both play big in the win today," UCSB Head Carlene Mitchell said. "Kristine hit that big three late in the game and Clair was terrific on the boards down the stretch." 

The Gauchos improve to 1-24 on the year with a 1-11 mark in conference, while the Titans' record slides to 10-15 overall and 4-8 in the Big West.

With 3:03 left in the game, Brance stretched UCSB's lead out to seven points with her left wing three-pointer, solidifying her team's comeback and putting the game out of reach for the Titans. She finished the game with nine points, trailing only Watkins' team-high of 10.

Watkins also led the Gauchos in rebounding with nine, including five in the second half while playing with four personal fouls. Meanwhile, Onome Jemerigbe paced UCSB with eight assists and three steals.

UCSB started the game on an 8-1 run with Jasmine Ware and Watkins scoring four points each. In facing the Gauchos' stifling defense, the Titans did not score a field goal until 5:39 went by in the game. 

Fullerton did, however, gain some momentum in closing out the first half on a 7-2 run, but the Gauchos still limited them to just 18.2 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes.

While Cal State Fullerton rode a 15-4 run to go out on top 26-23 early in the second half, UCSB became disruptive on defense in forcing the Titans into 10 turnovers in the final twenty minutes, turning those into 13 points. Overall, the Gauchos forced 22 Fullerton turnovers and cashed them in for 22 points.

"Do not foul. That was one of our defensive keys to the game," Mitchell said. "We put them at the line 29 times last time and I was happy to see that we turned that around today."

Fullerton went 8-11 at the charity stripe in the first half, but was held to just five free throws in the second while UCSB went 4-6.

Defensive discipline combined with fast break scoring led UCSB in its second half comeback starting when it was facing a 29-25 deficit with 13:05 to play. The Gauchos fired off an 8-2 run after Kendra Morrison banked a shot off the glass to end a fast break started by Brance forcing a missed three from Tailer Butler.

On the next play, DeJea Smith bobbled an entry pass, which allowed Watkins to pick up the loose ball and gave the Gauchos a possession she would eventually score on. Keeping pressure in the backcourt, Jemerigbe stripped Butler of the ball and found Watkins again for a bucket, this time on a jumper from the left elbow. 

Two possessions later, Morrison hauled in a rebound off a missed three and put UCSB on the fast break with Jemerigbe finding Brance on the two-on-one scenario, which put the Gauchos back on top at 33-31 with 8:59 left to play.

Butler breathed some life into the Titan offense with a three-pointer at the 4:40 mark to cut the UCSB lead down to two points, but the Gauchos quelled their momentum with Ware hitting a baseline jumper followed by Brance's late-game triple.

The Gauchos will continue the season on the road next week when they will visit UC Irvine on Thursday followed by UC Davis on Saturday. Both games will be featured on Big West TV and will feature on audio broadcast online at UCSBgauchos.com.