By Nicolette Kirkland, Vanguard (Calif.) Director of Media and Promotions
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – After playing a gladiator-like schedule consisting of four NCAA Division I road games in a five-day span, NAIA preseason No. 1 Vanguard, the fatigued underdog, persevered to defeat UC Santa Barbara in its final exhibition of the series, 69-66.
Senior Nicole Ballestero (Orange, Calif.), who scored 18 at UCLA, 22 at Cal and 25 at Stanford capped her extended weekend with a 24-point performance against UC Santa Barbara on Monday evening.
Ballestero played 146-of-160 minutes over the weekend and led the Lions in scoring in each contest.
"This was a great win for our team," Ballestero said. "We knew that playing four games in five days was going to be tough, but we felt that we could win this last game against game against UCSB. Playing Cal, Stanford and UCLA got us prepared for this game and we were able to learn from the games and come together as a team to get this win. I am proud of the way we competed these past four games and I am really excited for what this team is going to do this year."
Sophomore Samantha Doucette (Irvine, Calif.) emerged as a huge offensive threat for the Lions, averaging 15.5 per contest in the four-game span. She scored 16 against the Gauchos at the Thunderdome in Monday's victory.
"Tonight's win was big for us because we have been close with UCSB in the past and finally got them this year," Doucette said. "This weekend has been a great learning experience for us because we competed with top-ranked NCAA Division I teams and played a national-tournament type of schedule in terms of number of games in a short period. There's just not going to be any team that we play against all year that will be better than Cal or Stanford. We competed with the best and are taking a lot from it."
A pair of Oregon City, Ore. natives, senior Taylor Belmont and junior Ashleigh Anderson, also managed double-digits in Vanguard's big upset. Belmont scored 11 and dished out a game-high 8 assists, while Anderson recorded 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting and grabbed 5 rebounds.
Ballestero and classmate Leigha Bednar (Keller, Texas) matched Anderson's rebounding tally, with 5 boards apiece, three shy of junior Melissa Norman (Elk Grove, Calif.) who grabbed eight off of the glass to lead all players. Norman also recorded two blocked shots for the Pride.
Vanguard led UCSB 33-27 at the break after shooting 48.7 percent (13-27) from the floor through 20 minutes.
The Lions' offense maintained its productivity in the second and shots continued to fall while VU left every ounce of defensive energy it could muster on the floor to finish the game.
UCSB's Kristine Brance heaved up a try from downtown at the buzzer, but it would not go as Vanguard secured the exhibition bragging rights.
The Blue and Gold completed the contest shooting 49.0 percent and 41.2 (7-17) from 3-point range. Three of the long-balls belonged to Doucette, who went 3-for-4 from deep on the night.
Nicole Nesbit had a solid outing for the Gauchos with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in 29 minutes.
Vanguard takes a three-day break before returning to The Pit for its 2013 season opener on Thursday. The game, versus Occidental College, is slated for 7:30pm.