The UC Santa Cruz women’s basketball team looked to continue its momentum late into the season as it squared off against Menlo College on Jan. 15. The Slugs also looked to protect their home court as they played on-campus at the West Field House for the first time since moving to Kaiser Permanente Arena last season.

Despite suffering a disappointing 43-40 loss to Westmont College in their previous game, the Slugs entered this game focused. The game was closely contested through most of the opening half as Menlo got off to a strong start, obtaining a 10-9 lead with 13:31 remaining.

From that point, the Slugs regained the lead and ended the quarter 30-18, scoring a run to give them the 39-29 lead at the half. In spite of a valiant comeback effort by their opponent, the Slugs earned a 71-57 victory over Menlo.

“We had kids hit shots when they needed to. We had people who defended really well late in possessions and late in the game,” said head coach Todd Kent. “The key to the game is that they played like a group and they trusted each other.”

The crowd was electric as students gathered to support the Slugs and filled most of the bleacher seats. Although there was a strong presence in the crowd rooting for the road team — located about an hour away — the local fans out-vocalized them as the game progressed.

“Our goal is to come out and compete in every game and put ourselves in a position to win every game,” Kent said.

The Slugs did that despite a scare in the second half. Menlo surged into the second quarter on an 11-2 scoring run, cutting UCSC’s lead to four with 14:35 remaining. Menlo fought for a 49-48 lead in the second half, forcing the Slugs to call a timeout. Instead of panicking, the Slugs showed their experience by regaining their composure to retake the lead. They never looked back as they ended the game on a 23-9 scoring run to secure the 71-57 victory.

“We all practiced really hard and when it comes down to the end of the game, it’s mechanics. It’s things you practice over and over again. We drilled everything we did in this game this week,” said starting point guard Sarah Fitzgerald, who had eight points and two assists after the Slugs trailed in the second quarter.

UCSC’s ability to move the ball was the key to its victory. The Slugs recorded 19 assists compared to Menlo’s nine. Leah Parrish finished with a game-high of 19 points and 17 rebounds — her second game in a row with a double-double and a season high in rebounds as she dominated the glass for the Slugs. Fitzgerald finished with 10 points while shooting 100 percent from the free throw line.

“It is games like [these] that you can see us improve from the beginning of the game to the end. We just need to keep doing that,” Fitzgerald said. “My role is definitely trying to keep the energy up. When you get toward the end of the season, people start getting tired. It’s a very long season so it’s just being energized, being vocal and loud and keeping everyone in the game involved.”

The Slugs (13-6) will face off against Bethesda Christian University at home on Jan. 24 and Feb. 7. They look to continue their momentum with six games remaining in the season and push for a spot in the NCAA playoffs.