SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Mia Bell's running, acrobatic - and a little wild - shot at the buzzer went off the backboard, hung on the rim for an instant and then, to the horror of the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team, fell in.
The length of the floor run and shot by Bell allowed UNLV to leave the Thunderdome on Saturday with a heart-stopping 46-44 victory over the Gauchos, who felt heart-broken the way things ended.
UCSB (3-5 overall) traded punches with the taller, longer and physical Rebels throughout the game and trailed by just two points with 1:30 to play. The madness of a finish was just beginning.
Each team missed field goals before Emilie Johnson dove on the floor to steal a pass, and from her side, flipped it to Sweets Underwood streaking down the court with 40 seconds to play. Underwood was caught from behind by Bell, who stole the ball and drew the foul, forcing a UCSB turnover.
Bell missed the free throw and Johnson grabbed the rebound, but in trying to run the offense, had her pass to Underwood stolen by Lenita Sanford. As Sanford ran down the floor, Bell was holding, shoving and pushing Johnson, who was trying to defend the fast break. Bell was whistled for the offensive foul and UCSB had the ball with 22.7 seconds left.
Head coach Carlene Mitchell drew up a play to run through Nicole Nesbit, either to take an open shot to tie the game, or to kick it out to a three-point shooter – Kelsey Adrian, Johnson, or Melissa Zornig – for a chance at a game-winner.
Nesbit broke free from her defender and nailed a 16-footer with 6.5 seconds left to tie the game at 44-apiece.
But that was too much time for Bell, who raced down the court and threw up her wild shot, which fell through right at the buzzer to give the Lady Rebels their eighth win of the season.
Zornig led the Gauchos with 13 points while Nesbit had 11 as UCSB shot 31.3% from the floor.
UCSB held its fifth straight opponent to under 50 points as UNLV shot 35.2% from the floor. Yet, the Rebels employed four of five players on the court over 6-feet tall, allowing UNLV to outrebound UCSB, 45-27. That turned into 12 second-chance points for the Rebels.
Santa Barbara will host Pepperdine on Friday, Dec. 16 in a 7 pm game at the Thunderdome. Tickets are available by calling (805) 893-UCSB or online by clicking here.
The game can be heard live on AM 990 in Santa Barbara or online by clicking here. The pre-game show starts a half-hour before tip-off.