ANAHEIM Calif. - Tournament MVP Casper Ware scored 33 points and handed out six assists Saturday night at the Honda Center to lead No. 1 seed Long Beach State to a 77-64 victory over No. 3 seed UC Santa Barbara for the championship of the Big West Conference Tournament and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The 49ers (25-8) avenged losses in the title game in each of the last two seasons to UCSB (20-10), which got 17 points from both Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally but lost to Long Beach for the third time this season. The 17 points for Johnson pushed him over the 1,800 point mark in his career. He now has 1,806 in his three seasons.
The loss is the first by the Gauchos in a Big West Tournament championship game.
"Tonight was a case of too much Casper," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "He was outstanding."
The crowd of 7,564 was the largest in the 18-year tenure of the tourney in Anaheim.
Ware matched his career high with 8 3-point baskets in 16 attempts as the 49ers combined for a season-high 14 in 33 attempts. Ware scored 14 of the 49ers' first 15 points in the second half including his fifth and sixth treys, each one answering 3-pointers by Nunnally. His seventh trey was part of a 4-point play that
triggered a pivotal 12-0 run over 5 ½ minutes that turned a 47-46 lead into a 59-46 advantage with about nine minutes to play. When the score was 47-46, the Gauchos had three opportunities to take the lead but were turned back each time.
UCSB got back within 7 points at 64-57 after back-to-back treys by Johnson but the 49ers responded with six unanswered points by James Ennis to lead 70-57 with less than four minutes to play.
UCSB had set season lows in turnovers twice in the tourney with 6 vs. Pacific and 3 vs. Cal Poly but committed 15 against the quicker 49ers.
In the first half, 24 of the 49ers' 36 points came on eight made 3-pointers in 19 attempts.
UCSB led for only 35 seconds of the game at 15-14 after a Jaime Serna bucket at 13:18. But Ware hit back-to-back treys and a driving layup for an 8-0 run and a 22-15 lead.
UCSB scored the next 5 points before Peter Papageorge came off the CSULB bench to hit consecutive 3-pointers for a 28-20 advantage. Ware's fourth 3-pointer at 5:36 gave Long Beach its biggest lead of the half at 33-24.
UCSB closed out the period with a 10-3 run to pull within 36-34 at intermission. Johnson and Nunnally each scored nine points while Ware led the 49ers with 14 points and five assists.
For the third time in their careers, Johnson and Nunnally were named to the All-Tournament Team.
The Gauchos will now await a possible invitation to play in one of the various other postseason tournaments, including the College Basketball Invitational and the College Insider Tournament. The picture should become clear on Sunday evening.