March 9, 2002
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - UC Santa Barbara withstood the pushes and shoves of the Big West Conference and was rewarded with an NCAA tournament bid.
Branduinn Fullove made two free throws with 5.3 seconds left and finished with 12 points to lead UC Santa Barbara to a 60-56 victory over top-seeded Utah State in the championship game of the Big West Conference on Saturday night.
The victory over the two-time tournament defending champions put Santa Barbara (20-10) into the tournament for the first time since 1990.
"Our mental focus and being prepared for their physical play really made the difference," Fullove said. "We were really focused on not letting (Utah State's) pushes and shoves get us off balance, and on finishing strong at the basket."
Gauchos coach Bob Williams was pleased his team's tournament victories came against Cal Poly and the regular-season co-champions, UC Irvine and Utah State (23-7).
"The road to winning this could not have been sweeter," Williams said. "We had to play the two most physical teams in the league in Irvine and Utah State, and we hung with them."
Adama Ndiaye added 11 points and Nick Jones, the tournament MVP, scored 10 points for the third-seeded Gauchos (20-10), who won their first conference championship and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
Desmond Penigar and reserve Mike Ahmad each scored 12 points for the Aggies (23-7).
Utah State's Ronnie Ross tied the score at 53 on a 3-pointer with 2:35 to play. But a layin by Mark Hull and three free throws from Jacoby Atako gave Santa Barbara a 58-53 lead with 25 seconds remaining.
Tony Brown's 3-pointer with seven seconds left cut the deficit to two points. Then Brown fouled Fullove, who converted both free throws.
The Aggies erased 43-34 deficit with a 12-0 run and took a 46-43 lead with 10:53 to go. Ahmad scored eight points in the run.