New Look Gauchos Power Past Pioneers in Exhibition Opener

Sarah Porter (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Sarah Porter (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Despite being plagued by a handful of injuries to start the season, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team fused new talent with key returners seamlessly in a wire-to-wire 78-63 exhibition victory over Cal State East Bay on Saturday night at the Thunderdome.

Without both of its 6-foot-4 post players in Drew Edelman and Natalia Bruening, the youthful Gauchos started a smaller lineup that featured three freshmen, all of whom were active early on to help UCSB jump out to a quick lead.

"Honestly, in years past I would be a lot more nervous to start three freshmen," said head coach Bonnie Henrickson. "But there is a maturity about them and the way they play, there really is."

Freshman point guard Danae Miller set the tone early with back-to-back mid-range jumpers to open the scoring and Nina Radford followed with a basket of her own before Sarah Bates knocked down a three-pointer to give UCSB a quick 9-5 lead.

With a 13-12 lead moments later, the flood gates opened up and the Gauchos rattled off a 22-0 run to go ahead 35-12 while holding Cal State East Bay without a point in over seven minutes of action.

The run was highlighted by a pair of flashy passes from Bates, leading to easy layups from Chaya Durr and Foothill College transfer Akilah Jennings while the Gauchos found their stroke from beyond the arc as Bates knocked down a second three in the quarter and Aliceah Hernandez also connected from distance.

After shooting 11-for-15 (73.3 percent) from the field in the first quarter, UCSB cooled down considerably in the second quarter but cruised into halftime with a 40-22 lead.

Newcomers Jennings and Tal Sahar, who sat out last season due to NCAA Transfer rules, fueled the offense in the second half, despite the Gauchos being outscored 41-38 in the final two quarters.

Jennings tallied six points in the third and finished with 13 for the game while Sahar went for a team-high 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting from three-point land, including three triples in the fourth quarter alone.

"It felt really good," Sahar said on making her UCSB debut. "Everyone works really hard in practice so the pace didn't really faze me as much as I thought it would, but it felt really good."

For the game, the Gauchos shot 45.2 percent (28-for-62) from the field and 37 percent from three (10-for-27) while holding the Pioneers to 34.8 percent (23-for-66). With its crisp passing on full display, UCSB assisted on 21 of its 28 baskets and were led by Bates, who finished with seven assists to go with eight points and six rebounds. 

Senior veteran Makala Roper also notched double-figures for the Gauchos with 12 points and Miller collected five assists and six points in her debut. Durr tallied eight points and seven rebounds while Sarah Porter and Radford both finished with seven points apiece.

The Pioneers were led by 25 points and 14 rebounds from Morgan Greene.

"For us to be able to play with a pretty good flow and rhythm, considering there is so many new people and so many people that haven't practiced much, it was good to see," said Henrickson.

UCSB is back in action for its regular season opener on Friday, Nov. 10 at Northern Arizona at 7:00 p.m.