March 14, 2009
ANAHEIM, Calif. - In the end, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team had experience on its side.
The Gauchos, seeded first, were playing in their 13th straight Big West Tournament championship game. Cal Poly, seeded third, was playing in its first-ever Big West Tournament championship game.
And, of course, the Gauchos had Jenna Green, a sixth-year senior who has played in these games every year of her career.
So it was no surprise that when UCSB needed her most she was there, finishing off a three-point play with 0:28 remaining in Saturday's Big West Tournament championship game to give UCSB an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament with a 64-57 victory over Cal Poly at the Anaheim Convention Center.
"I love this team so much; I really do," UCSB head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "I've told them all year that every team, each year, is a unique experience. Even if you replace just one player, it's a different feeling. I hope I have a long career, I hope I'm fortunate to win other championships, but this team right now if one I will never forget."
Green finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds - her second double-double of the tournament and her sixth over her past 13 games - as the Gauchos held off a determined Mustangs squad.
Green was named to the All-Tournament Team while Lauren Pedersen, who finished with eight points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals was named the Tournament's MVP.
"We knew this was our year, but it wasn't going to happen unless we were a unit," Jenna Green said. "That includes all 15 of us, but really as seniors you know you have to lead them. It was kind of `by any means necessary' and playing hard."
Cal Poly got off to a blistering start, leading by as many as 15 points midway through the first half. After the Gauchos cut the lead to three at halftime, Green took control. She scored nine points with seven rebounds in the second half and a stellar performance from a surrounding cast vaulted UCSB to its 11th Big West title in the past 13 seasons.
Chris Spencer scored a career-high 11 points, none bigger than a reverse layup with 1:12 left that gave UCSB a 57-56 lead, one that it would never relinquish. Spencer's basket led a 9-1 run that the experienced Gauchos made to win the game. The junior finished with five rebounds, a block and two steals.
Emilie Johnson scored 13 points - 10 in the second half - and finished off Cal Poly for good by making two of her career-best seven free throws with four seconds left on the clock.
UCSB was down 56-55 after Kristina Santiago's jumper, but Spencer's reverse layup, Green's three-point play and free throws from a team on pace to set a school record in free throw percentage led the Gauchos to another NCAA Tournament berth.
Cal Poly took a 48-47 lead with 8:06 left on Abby Bloetscher's layup, then extended it to 51-47 when Lisa McBride buried a wide-open 3-pointer from the wing.
Cal Poly jumped out to an 18-7 lead on Lisa McBride's 3-pointer in the first half and then the Mustangs pushed their lead to 25-10 on Kristina Santiago's breakaway layup with 9:10 to play in the first half.
"I don't think it was being flat," Gottlieb said about the 15-point deficit. "I think they jumped on us, and we didn't respond as well as we could have, and it played into their hands. At the end of the day, it was holding off, getting open, making sharp cuts, and getting where we needed to be. There was no magic formula, just our players settling in and being a bit sharper with execution."
The Gauchos weathered the storm, however, and came roaring back. Jordan Franey had a follow-up layin and Chris Spencer hit a long two and then nailed a 3-pointer to make it 30-24. Emilie Johnson then buried three straight free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt with 0:44 remaining. Cal Poly took a 34-31 lead into the half.
UCSB will find out where it falls in the brackets during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Monday at 4 p.m. (PST). All fans and media are invited to the Reitnouer Auditorium, located inside the Intercollegiate Athletics building on campus to watch the Selection Show with the team.
Tickets are available by calling (805) 893-UCSB, visiting the Ticket Office located on campus in the Intercollegiate Athletics Office or by logging on to UCSBgauchos.com.
Lauren Pedersen, UC Santa Barbara (MVP)
Jenna Green, UC Santa Barbara
Megan Harrison, Cal Poly
Lisa McBride, Cal Poly
Toni Thomas, Cal State Fullerton
Tonicia Tademy, Cal State Northridge