PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico - Mississippi State went 18-for-18 from the free-throw line Wednesday afternoon, but the Bulldogs struggled from the field as they dropped a 60-43 decision to UC Santa Barbara at the Hardwood Tournament of Hope.
UCSB shot 60 percent in the game's final half to expand on a 26-20 halftime lead. The Lady Gauchos entered the contest, allowing 49 points per game. UCSB did even better on this night as the Bulldogs had their lowest offensive total of the season.
MSU did convert all 18 of its free throw attempts. The perfect tally from the stripe is the best percentage in school history for the Dawgs, who lead the SEC at the line this season. It betters the previous best of 95.5-percent set against Texas in 2009 and Delta State in 1978.
Despite the stellar showing from the strip, the Bulldogs were unable to overcome a season-low 22.4 percent from the field, including a 3-of-14 afternoon from 3-point range.
"We didn't play well," MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. "I thought we were a half step slow today. Defensively, we played hard, but we didn't play well when you look at our opponent's field goal percentage."
The Bulldogs scored the game's first six points on back-to-back 3-point baskets by Kendra Grant and Jessy Ward. MSU then went better than eight minutes without scoring another field goal.
UCSB pushed ahead at 7-6 on a jumper by Destini Mason. The Lady Gauchos would eventually score 11 straight before MSU's Martha Alwal hit a pair of free throws.
UCSB ran the lead to six points before MSU closed within two at 16-14 on a pair of free throws from Darriel Gaynor.
MSU got back within one on two free throws by Alwal with 1:35 left in the half. UCSB scored the final five points of the half to take a 26-20 lead at the break.
In the opening half, the Bulldogs only hit 5-of-25 shots from the field, including only 2-of-9 shots from 3-point range.
"Sometimes when you have the depth problem we have, it's hard to play back-to-back," Schaefer said. "In this tournament, we have to play back-to-back-to-back. It's a good lesson because we will have to play back-to-back games again in December. It's a hard lesson. It's part of the learning process, but we'll keep teaching."
In the second half, the Bulldogs could not battle back from another prolonged scoring draught. UCSB scored the second half's first six points and held MSU scoreless for better than three minutes.
An old-fashioned 3-point play by freshman Sherise Williams brought the Maroon and White within 34-25. UCSB scored the game's next six points and would extend the lead to 20 on four occasions and 22 once.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 11 of 49 shots from the field (22.4 percent), 3 of 14 shots from 3-point range (21.4 percent) and 18 of 18 shots from the foul line (100 percent). The Lady Gauchos hit 24 of 45 shots from the field (53.3 percent), 0 of 2 shots from 3-point range (0 percent) a 12 of 16 shots from the foul line (75 percent).
UCSB held a 33-23 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had six assists and 15 turnovers, while the Lady Gauchos had nine assists and 17 turnovers.
Alwal and Grant each had 10 points for the Bulldogs. Alwal had a team-high five rebounds and was 6 for 6 from the free-throw line.
UCSB received 13 points from Sweets Underwood and Melissa Zornig. Angelei Aguirre added 11 points and Destini Mason added 10 points. Sweets had a double-double, as she also pulled down 12 rebounds, with nine of those coming on the defensive end.
MSU will face either Missouri State or Central Florida at 1 p.m. Thanksgiving Day in the seventh place game of the tournament.