March 13, 2010
ANAHEIM, Calif. - The emotions finally got to James Powell. Fortunately for UC Santa Barbara, they came after the game and not while he was at the free throw helping to seal a 69-64 Big West Tournament championship win over Long Beach State, sending the Gauchos to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002.
One of only two seniors on the team, Powell made all four of his free throws in the last 27 seconds, and James Nunnally added a pair, as UCSB made all the plays down the stretch to stave off the 49ers.
On the dais in the postgame interview room, Powell talked about the free throws and his feelings about playing in his first NCAA Tournament.
"I don't really think about it," Powell said about stepping to the line late in games. "When it ended, I just thought about all of the great players I've played with and how they never got the chance to go to the Tournament. That gets to me a little bit."
The Gauchos needed a lot of heroics after Greg Plater's 3-pointer gave Long Beach its first, and only, lead of the second half, 53-52 with 5:09 remaining.
Orlando Johnson, named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, was the first to step-up, giving UCSB the lead for good with a pair of free throws with 4:52 remaining. Following a defensive stop on the other end, Johnson took a pass from Nunnally and powered his way for a lay-up giving the Gauchos a 56-53 advantage with 4:03 to play.
Plater pulled the 49ers back within one, 56-55, making two free throws with 3:45 left on the clock.
At the 3:22 mark, it was Johnson again as he made another pair of free throws. A Casper Ware jumper from just inside the free throw line narrowed the edge to one, 58-57, with 3:06 left.
Johnson answered again, drawing another foul and making two more free throws to push the lead back to three, 60-57, with 2:43 remaining. Again, the 49ers would battle back as T.J. Robinson made a reverse lay-up to pull them back within one, 60-59 with 2:09 to play.
At that point, it was Nunnally's turn as he took a pass from Powell and calmly drained a 3-pointer from the right side, pushing the edge to 63-59 at the 1:49 mark.
"That was a huge shot," Williams understated. "He was one of many guys who really came through late in the game, but Nunn has done that all year."
Two free throws by Ware with 1:45 left and one by Robinson with 28 seconds to play cut the Gauchos' lead to 63-62 with 28 seconds remaining, setting the stage for the clutch free throws by Powell and Nunnally. Powell was intentionally fouled and made his first two with 27 seconds left. After UCSB forced Long Beach into a turnover, Powell was fouled again with just under seven seconds to play and he made two more. A lay-up by Larry Anderson made it 67-64 with 2.8 seconds left. This time, it was Nunnally, an All-Tournament Team selection, who was fouled intentionally, and like his teammates, he made both of his free throws.
Ware missed a 3-pointer as time ran out and the Gauchos were Big West Tournament champions for the first time since 2002.
In all, the Gauchos made all 12 of their free after the 49ers took the lead. Johnson scored a game-high 20 points and had four assists. Nunnally added 19 and six rebounds, and Jaimé Serna had 11 and six rebounds. Powell scored nine, three of which came on the 218th 3-pointer of his career, a new UCSB record.
Ware had 19 and Robinson 15 to lead Long Beach.
Santa Barbara will now wait until Sunday at 3:00 p.m. to find out where they and who they will fact in the NCAA Tournanent. The show will be aired live on CBS (Channel 12 in the Santa Barbara area).
Gaucho fans are invited to attend a viewing party in the auditorium of the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on the UCSB campus. Refreshments will be served beginning at 2:30 p.m.