Just the Facts, Ma'am: 58.8% shooting by UC-Santa Barbara countered a 23-5 free throw differential in favor of Fresno State, and the Gauchos pulled out a 64-62 win. Emilie Johnson led all scorers with 21 points, while Sweets Underwood notched a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds. Hayley Munro's 16 points and seven rebounds led Fresno State.
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Californians, you'll have to pardon me if these notes are not as coherent and exhaustive as they are most of the time. Between the lateness of the hour and the insanity of our game against Southern Miss, I'm wiped.
I'm not lying or being polite when I say that this was the matchup I was most looking forward to in the Chartwells. I had heard a lot about UCSB, Lindsay Gottlieb, and Mekia Valentine; I had heard a lot about Fresno State, Adrian Wiggins, and Jaleesa Ross. I knew this was an even match of two good teams and programs with solid track records, teams I might never see again unless I traveled west.
And of course, when you know to watch a player, someone else steps up. Nicole Nesbit came off the bench like a bolt of lightning to energize a swarming, relentless Gauchos defense in the first half. She was flying on the fast break. Sweets Underwood stepped up with a pretty awesome block in the first half and some key baskets in the second, but she also made some fairly stupid mistakes. I don't even remember Melissa Zornig playing. I'm very sorry.
Mekia Valentine's foul trouble really hampered her in the first half, and it almost seemed like her teammates weren't sure what to do with a big girl in the middle. Either that, or Fresno State was very prepared for the repeated attempts at alley-oop passes that the Gauchos tried. I'd love to see her be more assertive, just not tomorrow. She did have some monster blocks, and as a presence in the middle defensively, she's formidable- but with her build and height, she could be more. Emilie Johnson put up the quietest points I ever saw; I remember filling out my scorecard and at one point going, "When did Johnson score 17?" She was just quietly and mercilessly effective. No plays that made me go "ooh!" or even "No!" There and competent. It sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's not meant that way. There's nothing backhanded about it. Margaret Johnson spent so much time in foul trouble that she played less than the bench players. Angelei Aguirre played all right- not badly, not amazingly, but solidly. Kelsey Adrian occasionally appeared to be under the impression that she was playing hockey, judging from the physicality of some of her moves on defense. She was really going at it with a couple of the Aussies from Fresno State.
I'm not sure how enamored I was of Coach Gottlieb in the second half. Her team lost composure and got rattled by a defense very similar to the one they used in the first half, and her endgame was very sketchy. I understand the rationale behind trying to run clock with nine seconds left, a two-point lead, and the one-and-one coming up on the next Fresno foul. However, if you have a player open in the front court, it makes more sense to throw it to her and get the two-possession lead without having to worry about the free throws. You know why? Because Nesbit missed the front end of the one-and-one, and the only reason it worked out for Santa Barbara was because the refs screwed Fresno State of about a second, and their only shot was a halfcourt heave that had the distance but not quite the aim. If they'd set up Valentine the way the entire booster section was screaming for them to, they wouldn't have had to worry.
And yes, the Gauchos traveled exceedingly well. They brought two sections of people in blue and yellow. They brought signs, some streamers, and some little signs. One guy had a very cool supporter's scarf (you know, the ones they have in soccer). Of course, it was not as cool as my fiancé's St. John's scarf, but they can't help it.
Fresno State has a lot of Australians. It's sort of hilarious. Who knew California was so inviting to Aussies? And Adrian Wiggins's animation intrigues me. I like a man who's passionate about his job.
Taja Edwards got her time in the second half, and helped spearhead the comeback by the Bulldogs. Fresno State really didn't rely on their bench much, and didn't get much out of it (though they did need to make a sub for Ross early because of foul trouble). I had to look at the box score to remember that more than two reserves played, so again, there's little I can say about them. Sorry, Fresno fans.
I get the idea that a lot of Jaleesa Ross's plays are much cooler in her head than they turn out in the real world. She reminds me of Ticha Penicheiro in her drive and dish ways, especially with the flair she puts on them. Unfortunately, a lot of those times she reminded me of the young Ticha who would sheepishly say that she put too much mustard on the hot dog sometimes. With Taylor Thompson in the game, Ross was playing a strange sort of combo guard, with Thompson setting up the offense but Ross doing the dishing inside. Not sure if it really worked, because by the time Fresno started really learning to read her passes, so did Santa Barbara. For a freshman, I really like Thompson. She's spunky. Not afraid to get up in anyone's business or to take the big shot. Rosie Moult alternated moments of great plays and big shots with moments of sketchy ballhandling, stupid fouls, and an absolute fascination with staring at what Ross was going to do next with the basketball. Kayley Munro was willing to mix it up inside- she and Kelsey Adrian were going at it hammer and tongs all night. Marnique Arnold's shot wasn't falling in the first half, but in the second, she was able to get things going with some help from the swarming, intense defensive pressure of the Bulldogs' defense in the second half.
The scoreboard operator was a bit punchy by the time this game was into the second half- there were score irregularities at two different times in the half, and I was called upon to straighten out the score by some Gaucho family.
The refs got a bit tired near the end, too; guys, I'm pretty sure it's a foul when Mekia Valentine sits on someone, and when that someone is much smaller than she is, it's not a pretty sight. I mean, they had better control of that game than the other refs did, but that's small consolation.
You can see how Fresno State got into the tournament in this team; you can see the ghosts of Gauchos past in this team. It was all that I hoped it would be- but for different reasons.
We were rooting for Fresno State simply because they'd be a better matchup for our MASH unit, because I didn't really like the idea of facing Valentine with both of our starting posts injured. We were, however, sitting in one of the UCSB sections, because we had to move, because Southern Miss decided to colonize the section next to the band. I didn't trust myself when it was just the fans; when the players moved into that section, I was relieved we had moved, because otherwise the GNoD would be coming from the inside of a jail cell because I'd be arrested for assault and stupidity. You don't mess with my team and then go sit in a section that's traditionally home turf.
Sometime in the middle of the game, a couple of women wandered over to the section and we did double-takes. If not for the giant hoop earrings, the slightly higher voice, and the fact that I can't think of any reason she'd be chilling with UCSB fans/boosters/family, I'd have sworn on a stack of media guides that one of them was Becky Hammon. Dead ringer for her in body language, in looks, in build, and in style. So weird. Also, not fun. I sort of don't like her. But I didn't want to move again.
I admit to being easily distracted during this game, because I kept looking around to see where my team was, and if any of them were walking, and if Day had any notion of what planet she was on (no, seriously, when they're doing the finger test, it's a bad sign).
In conclusion: great game, could have been a little better, and I sort of want that Gaucho fan's scarf.