The UC San Diego women’s basketball team returned to the hardwood to take on UC Santa Barbara in a home Saturday afternoon matchup, and in defiance of the odds, the Tritons upset UCSB, outlasting them in a close 73–71 game that went down to the wire. UCSB was heavily favored over UCSD; the Big West preseason coaches’ poll had UCSB ranked third in the conference, while UCSD was in last place at 11th.
UCSB was the first opponent the Tritons have played since Jan. 5, when team activities were paused because of a positive COVID test within the women’s basketball program. The Tritons were originally scheduled to play a two-game series on Friday and Saturday against the Gauchos, but the first matchup of the series was cancelled due to medical concerns over UCSD’s recent positive test.
Despite not having played a game in almost two weeks, the Tritons showed no sign of rust. UCSD took a small lead in the first quarter and a strong second quarter allowed them to extend it to 44–36. But that lead would not be insurmountable. In the third quarter the Tritons were outscored 9–20. Their shooting percentage dropped from 51.7 percent in the first half to just 20 percent. UCSD was able to hold onto their lead for most of the quarter but was overtaken in the final minutes, 56–53.
In the fourth quarter, the Tritons struggled to climb out of their three-point hole. UCSB stubbornly protected their lead for 9 minutes and 38 seconds of the final ten minutes. But some late-game heroics helped UCSD ultimately pull ahead. With 37 seconds on the clock, the Tritons trailed 71–68. Head coach Heidi VanDerveer called a timeout, and substituted freshman forward Aishah Brown in for redshirt senior forward Layla Ybarra-Harvey. Coming off the bench, Brown made a key low post jumper, putting the Tritons within striking distance at 71–70. Two plays later, on a fastbreak, Brown drew a foul, again earning the Tritons points. She made one of her two free throws, which was good enough to even the score at 71. With just seconds remaining on the clock, junior guard Brianna Claros fed the ball to senior guard Tyla Turner in the right low post. Turner knocked down a basket, pulling the Tritons ahead 73–71 for their first lead of the fourth quarter. After UCSB missed a last-second three-pointer on the other end, the win was official, as UCSD defeated UCSB 73–71.
In the preseason, coach VanDerveer described the trio of junior guard Julia Macabuhay, Turner, and junior guard Sydney Brown as the “meat and potatoes” of this basketball team. Macabuhay has yet to make her 2020–2021 season debut; without her, Turner and Brown have had to become the driving forces of this team. Turner was the star of the game; along with hitting the last-second winner, she recorded 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Meanwhile, Sydney Brown had a relatively quiet game by her standards. After leading the team in scoring with 31 points during the Triton’s first win of the season against Cal Poly, Brown had only 4 points this game, although she did snag 10 rebounds.
UCSD also relied on contributions from some new faces. Freshman Parker Montgomery was on the court for 27 minutes, fourth highest on the team, and had 14 points, 2 steals, and 1 rebound. Fellow freshman Aishah Brown, though she only played 8 minutes total, had some key late-game scores.
Junior guard Madison Baxter, who had worked her way into the starting lineup in Macabuhay’s absence, also did not participate in Saturday’s game. How the team works the roster and handles their unavailable players will be key as they head into the most difficult part of their schedule. With the win against UCSB, the Tritons have shown that despite being ranked last in the conference in the preseason, UCSD can still make some noise in the Big West.
Next week, UCSD is set to face off against UC Davis on the road, but it is doubtful whether the series will actually take place. Due to rising COVID cases in Yolo County, where Davis is located, professional and collegiate sports have been put on hold per orders from county public health officials. If the games are to be played, they will take place on Jan. 22 and 23. If not, UCSD’s next game will be a two-game home series against California State University, Long Beach the following week.
Photo courtesy of Scott Flanders / UC San Diego Athletics