March 10, 2007
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Chisa Ononiwu's potential game winning three-pointer fell off with seven seconds left as UC Riverside defeated UC Santa Barbara 70-67 to claim its second straight Big West Conference Tournament Championship at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena. Seyram Gbewonyo scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Highlanders, while Kemie Nkele added 18 and Amber Cox chipped in with 12. Jenna Green scored 21 to lead the Gauchos, who lost to Riverside for the fifth game in row Saturday.
The Highlanders improved to 21-10 overall after winning nine of their last 10 and will await the decision of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Committee as to their first round opponent in their second straight trip to the Big Dance. The Women's Selection Show will be aired on Monday, March 12 at 5:00 p.m. PST on ESPN.
UCSB fell to 17-13 overall after losing to back-to-back Big West Tournament championship games to Riverside. The Gauchos will wait to see if their season continues with a possible berth in the 40-team Postseason Women's National Invitation Tournament, to be announced on Monday evening.
"I thought it was a well-played game and both sides had players knock down big shots," head coach Mark French said. "I thought Chisa's shot from the corner was going in and if it had, things would be a whole lot different."
Green turned in her second outstanding performance in as many days, finishing with 21 points to lead four Gauchos in double figures on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor. She was 9-of-10 from the free-throw line, led UCSB with seven rebounds, and dished out two assists. Chisa Ononiwu scored 15 on 4-of-7 shooting from three-point territory, while Jordan Franey hit two triples and scored 11 and LaShay Fears added 10.
The finish was just as dramatic as it was in last year's final, when a Jessica Wilson layup rattled out as time expired and the Highlanders bested the Gauchos 59-58 to claim the program's first-ever Big West tournament title. The lead changed hands seven times in the second half of Saturday's game with eight ties and neither team leading by more than five.
With Santa Barbara holding a 64-62 lead, Gbewonyo drained her fourth three of the afternoon to give the Highlanders a 65-64 advantage with 2:36 left. After UCSB failed to convert on the other end, Roney Friend's layup with 1:06 seconds remaining gave the Highlanders a three-point cushion, but Franey connected on a three from the top of the arc with 44 seconds left to even the score at 67-67.
UCR would respond again and it was Gbewonyo connecting from the right wing to give the Highlanders what proved to be the lead for good, 69-67. After a Santa Barbara time out, Ononiwu got a great look from the right corner, but the shot missed too far to the left and Nkele pulled down the rebound with 4.2 ticks left.
"I was feeling pretty good about the shot," Ononiwu said. "I lined it up, it felt good, it came out of my hands good, it just didn't roll in."
Nkele missed the second shot at the foul line after getting fouled on the rebound to give the Gauchos one last chance, but Fears' desperation shot from just past midcourt fell short as time expired.
UCSB got the start it was looking for, jumping out to an 8-0 lead - the largest of the game - after back-to-back threes from Wilson and Fears and a pair of free throws from Green in the first 1:43. The Highlanders then battled back and used an 11-3 run over the next 5:20 to knot things at 11-11.
With the game tied at 14, UC Santa Barbara scored 11 of the next 14 points - all by Green and Ononiwu - to put the Gauchos on top 25-17. Santa Barbara still led 28-22 with four minutes left in the first half, but a 7-1 spurt by the Highlanders squared the game at 29. UCSB would hold on to the lead though, heading to the locker room with a 32-31 edge.
Santa Barbara lost for just the third time this season when leading at halftime.
UC Riverside shot 49.1% (27-for-55) from the floor, including 63.6% (7-of-11) from beyond the arc, which was the third-highest total in the history of the Big West Tournament. UC Santa Barbara shot 39.3% (22-for-56) from the field and made 9-of-20 (45%) from three-point range. The Highlanders held a narrow 37-35 advantage on the glass and outscored the Gauchos 22-12 in the paint.
UCR had led for a total of 43 seconds in the game before Gbewonyo's three with 2:36 remaining.
All-Big West Conference Tournament Team
MVP - Kemie Nkele, UC Riverside
Karina Figueroa, Long Beach State
Seyram Gbewonyo, UC Riverside
Jenna Green, UC Santa Barbara
Chisa Ononiwu, UC Santa Barbara
Toni Thomas, Cal State Fullerton