Senior Day lived up to its name on Saturday afternoon, as senior guards Chisa Ononiwu and Jessica Wilson shined in an emotional victory for the UCSB women’s basketball team over Long Beach.
In their final regular season game before heading to the Big West Tournament in Anaheim, the Gauchos (21-7 overall, 15-1 in the Big West) overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half to defeat the 49ers (9-19, 7-9 Big West), who will enter the conference tournament as the seventh seed, 72-69 at the Thunderdome. UCSB’s two seniors fittingly had spectacular sendoffs, with Wilson scoring a game-high 26 points with 10 rebounds and five assists and Ononiwu also recording a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
“I thought from the tip-off until the final buzzer [Ononiwu and Wilson] were just intent, that they were going to play well and lead this team to victory,” Head Coach Mark French said. “You have to give a lot of love to those two; what a magnificent way to go out.”
Prior to the start of the game, the Gauchos honored Ononiwu and Wilson, and the two of them sang a crowd-pleasing rendition of the national anthem. It did not take long for Wilson to make her presence felt once the game tipped off, scoring a three-pointer on Santa Barbara’s first possession. Long Beach would eventually control the first half, using a 9-0 run to go up 5-11 with 12:23 remaining. UCSB managed to stay within striking distance after the 49ers went up by as much as 10, coming as close as three on a layup from freshman forward Ashlee Brown with 33 seconds to go. Though the momentum looked to be on the Gauchos’ side, Long Beach junior guard Karina Figueroa hit a three with 12 seconds left in the half to send the 49ers into halftime with a 39-33 edge.
“[Long Beach] shot the ball unbelievably well in the first half,” French said. “We were just hoping at halftime that we could stay solid and maybe they’d cool off a little bit.”
The 49ers kept the pressure on Santa Barbara as the second half got underway, building their advantage back up to 10 on a layup by freshman guard LaTorya Barbee to make the score 53-43 at the 15:12 mark. UCSB started to rally from that point on, out-scoring Long Beach 19-8 to take its first lead since early in the first half at 62-61, with seven minutes remaining in the contest. The lead went back and forth in the game’s final minutes, and with 1:55 left, Wilson put the Gauchos ahead by two, 68-66. After some clutch rebounding by the home team, junior forward Kat Suderman made a clutch high-post jumper on an assist from junior guard Lauren Pedersen to give Santa Barbara a four-point advantage with 35 seconds left. Suderman sealed the victory for UCSB with critical free throws, resulting in a 72-69 win for the home team.
“I like this kind of game and ending on this kind of note,” Ononiwu said. “This was just a good win and we had fun; we had so much fun out there.”
With the regular season behind it, UCSB now turns its attention to the Big West Tournament in Anaheim, which gets underway this week. The #1-seeded Gauchos will be in action in Friday’s semifinal game after a double-bye.
“I think our team is going to be ready to go out there and be focused,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be a different atmosphere, but I’m definitely ready.”