March 8, 2008

Seniors Shine In 72-69 Win Over Long Beach State

March 8, 2008

Box Score

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Playing in their final home game, seniors Jessica Wilson and Chisa Ononiwu rose to the occasion and led UC Santa Barbara to a 72-69 come-from-behind victory over visiting Long Beach State Saturday afternoon in the Thunderdome. Wilson scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Ononiwu finished with 17 points and 10 boards in the senior day win.

It was only fitting that Wilson and Ononiwu each finished with a double-double on Saturday, as the duo continued to impress the Gaucho faithful after signing the National Anthem prior to tip-off. Both players were honored in a senior day ceremony before the game.

"Jessica and Chisa have been great, great Gauchos," head coach Mark French said. "They are both very special people and they had special performances here today. If they continue to play at that level in the Big West Tournament, I like our chances."

The pair combined to score 43 of Santa Barbara's 72 points and helped UCSB erase a 10-point deficit with 15:18 remaining in the second half. With the win, the Gauchos finish the regular season with an overall record of 21-7 and head to Anaheim for the Big West Conference Tournament next week as the No. 1 seed after finishing with an impressive league mark of 15-1. UCSB has won 17 of its last 18 games overall.

Long Beach State (9-19, 7-9 Big West) took a 39-33 lead into the locker room at halftime and opened up its biggest lead of the game nearly five minutes into the second when Tyresha Calhoun's layup put the 49ers in front by 10 at 55-45.

But the Gauchos outscored the visitors 11-3 over the next six minutes to pull within two at 58-56. Ononiwu started the run with a jumper from the left side and then followed with one of her three triples on the afternoon. Junior guard Lauren Pedersen hit a big three of her own and Ononiwu's second trey three minutes later cut the deficit to just two with 9:29 remaining.

After LBSU's Karina Figueroa knocked down two free throws to push the 49ers' lead back to four, Wilson scored inside on back-to-back possessions and Whitney Warren converted a contested layup on the block to give the Gauchos a 62-61 lead -- their first lead since early in the opening half -- with 6:21 left. Figueroa hit a long three pointer less than a minute later to reclaim the lead for Long Beach State and Brett Timmons' jumper with 4:24 left on the clock gave the 49ers a 66-64 advantage.

It was all UCSB from there. Junior forward Kat Suderman tied the game with a jumper from the free throw line and Pedersen's steal on the defensive end led to an easy basket in transition for Wilson as the Gauchos pulled in front for good, 68-66 with 1:55 remaining.

Suderman then hit another big jumper to push the lead to four before Figueroa sank a three with 20 seconds left to cut the Santa Barbara advantage to one, 70-69. But Suderman was fouled on the ensuing possession and sank both free throws to push the cushion back to three. The 49ers could not get a shot off against the Gauchos' defense on the final possession and UCSB held on for the 72-69 victory.

After shooting just 38% in the first half, Santa Barbara shot much better in the second, hitting half of its shots to finish at 44.3% for the game. Long Beach State shot the ball well all afternoon and finished at an impressive 48% clip. Both teams were effective from behind the arc, sinking eight threes apiece. UCSB finished 8-of-20, 40%, while LBSU made 8-of-14 attempts from distance, 57%.

Wilson was 10-of-17 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from the three-point line, on the way to her highest scoring total of the season. Her previous high was 21 points that came in the Gauchos' non-conference win over Cal State Bakersfield on Feb. 13. The double-double was her fifth of the season and 12th of her career. The Sacramento, Calif. native also finished with a game-high five assists.

Ononiwu recorded her first-career double-double in one of her last games in the blue and gold, finishing 7-of-15 from the floor and 3-for-6 from behind the arc. 10 rebounds tied her career-high, matching her total against UC Riverside last season in the Thunderdome.

Figueroa, who did not play in the first meeting between the two teams this season, finished with 15 points to lead four players in double figures for Long Beach State. She was 4-of-13 from the field with all four of her field goals coming from long distance. Calhoun and LaTorya Barbee each scored 12, while Timmons chipped in with 11.

The top seeded Gauchos earn a pair of byes in next week's conference tournament and will have to wait until Thursday afternoon to learn who their opponent will be in Friday's semifinal round. UCSB will play in the first semifinal game, which begins at noon.

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