The UCSB women’s basketball team honored the careers of its three departing seniors Saturday night at the Thunderdome, but it was the clutch play of a freshman that lifted the Gauchos to the win over hated rival Long Beach State.
Taking a pass from senior guard Rachelle Rogers, freshman center Lindsay Taylor hit a layup and was fouled with 13 seconds left in the game. Taylor then hit the free throw to quell a furious second-half comeback by LBSU, securing Santa Barbara a hard fought 86-80 victory. UCSB extended its winning streak to six games with the win, but it was another winning streak of six that was the real reason to celebrate – six Big West Titles in a row.
“I came out and there were so many people here,” Rogers said. “The crowd was so loud and got me really excited. Tonight was a great way to finish [my home career].”
The Gauchos’ championship did not come without some uneasy moments [DN1], as UCSB was forced to overcome 35 points and 14 rebounds from the 49ers’ senior center Jackie Moore.
“[Moore] certainly made a statement for Big West Player of the Year tonight, didn’t she?” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “She was very impressive.”
Santa Barbara appeared ready to cruise to victory midway through the second half, leading 68-51. But LBSU was not about to go quietly, rallying around the superb play of its leader.
Starting with a Moore layup, LBSU embarked on a steady comeback, cutting UCSB’s once comfortable lead to 75-64. Moore then scored 10 points during a 14-5 Long Beach surge to bring the 49ers to within two, 80-78.
Despite her outstanding play, Moore may have cost LBSU the victory when she was whistled for a technical foul for screaming in the face of Gaucho junior forward Kayte Christensen.
Sophomore guard Jess Hansen made one of the two free throws awarded to Santa Barbara via the technical, and Christensen, who led UCSB with 20 points, added a layup to put UCSB ahead 83-78.
But with the game in hand, the Gauchos inexplicably started to foul, sending two 49ers to the free throw line – both of whom had the chance to cut Santa Barbara’s lead to three. But neither guard Tamara Inoue or forward Lauren Bull could convert at the stripe, missing all four of their attempts.
Long Beach was finally able to cut the UCSB lead to three on forward Crystal Givens’ layup with 40 seconds remaining, but the Gauchos responded with Taylor’s three-point play.
“Tonight was a lot of fun and very emotional,” senior forward Nicole Greathouse said. “I was disappointed that the game got so close at the end, but I thought we all played hard tonight. I’m very proud of this team.”
UCSB senior walk-on Sheila Shilati fired up the Gauchos early, stealing the ball at half court and taking it in for a layup for only her second field goal of the season.
Sophomore point guard Debby Caine replaced Shilati at the first stoppage in play and quickly made up for her lost time, hitting her first three-point attempt to put Santa Barbara ahead 13-8. The trey would be a sign of things to come, as Caine finished with 16 points, including four three-pointers.
Riding Caine’s hot hand, the Gauchos started to take control in the first half, going up 25-18. UCSB extended its lead to 37-27 on Caine’s third three-pointer of the period before heading into half time with a 45-36 advantage.
Caine started the second period with another three-point bomb, her final trey of the night. The hot-shooting Gauchos then seized their biggest lead of the game at 68-51 before Long Beach mounted its comeback.
Santa Barbara will now head to the Big West Tournament as the #1 seed, looking to find itself in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive year.
“I don’t care who we play [in the Big West Tournament],” Christensen said. “I just want us to play well and come away with a win.”