March 7, 2009
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - On senior night, it was a freshman that led UC Santa Barbara.
Freshman James Nunnally's three-point basket as time ran out gave the Gauchos (15-14 overall, 8-8 in the Big West) a dramatic 76-75 win over Long Beach State (15-14 overall, 10-6 in the Big West) on Saturday night. The win gives UCSB the fourth-seed in next week's Big West Tournament and earns them a first round bye.
Nunnally's game-winner capped a bizarre final 10 seconds which saw two lead changes and a tie.
With just over seven seconds to play and the 49ers leading 73-71, Nunnally made a running lay-up to tie the score at 73. Gaucho guard Will Brew, Jr., believing that UCSB still trailed by one, intentionally fouled T.J. Robinson after the inbounds pass. The clock ran down to 4.3 seconds, but after a meeting, the officials determined that there were actually 6.8 seconds left.
Robinson made both free throws to put Long Beach back on top, 75-73. The ball was brought into Brew who streaked up the court and handed the ball to Nunnally on the right sideline. Nunnally curled around Brew and dribbled towards the left sideline before pulling-up for the game-winner right in front of the Santa Barbara bench. He finished with a team-high 20 points, including 17 in the second half and 15 in the final 6:54, helping the Gauchos overcome an eight-point deficit in the final 8:53. UCSB trailed by as many as nine points in the first half.
"What a great way for these three seniors to end their home careers," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "When they look back and think about their final game in this building, what they will remember is the students rushing the floor and celebrating. It doesn't get more special than that.
Long Beach was led by Stephen Gilling, who had a game-high 23 points. Donovan Morris added 17, including 13 in the second half.
The Gauchos finished the game at 51.0% from the field overall and 46.7% from three-point range, 7-of-15. The 49ers made 54.8% of their shots, including nine three-pointers. Santa Barbara had 19 turnovers, but just six in the second half. Long Beach had 21 turnovers, 11 in the final 20 minutes.
The win was UCSB's third in a row and seventh in the last eight games. They are now 15-14 overall and 8-8 in the Big West. At one point, the Gauchos were 2-7 in Big West, tied for last. As recently as Thursday, they were still in eighth-place, but the win, coupled with UC Irvine's win over Cal State Fullerton, puts three teams - UC Riverside, UC Irvine and UCSB - in a fourth-place tie. A favorable tiebreaker, however, gives the Gauchos the No. 4 seed and first round bye.
"This is one of the guttiest teams I have had here," Williams said. "We were counted for dead when we were 2-7, but these guys never quit. They just kept practicing hard, playing hard, and never quit. I am so proud of them and happy for them.
UCSB will play the late game in Thursday night's quarterfinal round of the Big West Tournament, 30 minutes after the early game which will tip-off at 6:00 p.m. at the Anaheim Convention Center. The Gauchos will play the highest remaining seed from Wednesday's first round games. In the first round, No. 5 seed UC Irvine plays No. 8 UC Davis, and No. 6 UC Riverside takes-on No. 7 Cal State Fullerton.
Tickets for the Big West Tournament, which will run from March 11-14 at the Anaheim Convention Center, can be purchased from the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, by calling 805-893-UCSB, or online by clicking here.