Anaheim–After back-to-back heartbreaking Big West Tournament Championship losses to UC Riverside, the UC Santa Barbara women’s basketball team is finally going back to the Big Dance.
The Gauchos (23-7 overall) used a 17-2 second-half run to pull away from a hot-shooting UC Davis (19-11) squad and win the program’s 12th Big West Championship on Saturday afternoon. Senior guard Jessica Wilson led the way with 16 points and seven rebounds as UCSB overcame a big early deficit to easily win 74-59. While they picked up their league championship trophy after the game, UCSB got its real prize on Monday when it was announced that the Gauchos have earned a #13 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play fourth-seeded Virginia on Sunday in Norfolk, Va. Ironically the Gauchos will be playing at the same site where the men’s soccer team won a crucial playoff game en route to a 2006 National Championship.
“I’m very pleased with our seed and I’m excited to play a very, very good Virginia team,” Head Coach Mark French said. “We are definitely looking forward to representing the West Coast well in Norfolk.”
While Wilson led the way on Saturday, she wasn’t the only Gaucho to have a big game — or a big tournament. Junior forward Kat Suderman and junior guards Whitney Warren and Sha’Rae Gibbons all finished in double-figures in scoring, as seven different Gauchos scored five or more points. Gibbons, Warren and Wilson were all named to the All-Tournament team, with Wilson following up a regular season Big West Player of the Year award by winning the Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player.
Santa Barbara trailed by seven late in the first half, but a 14-0 run allowed the Gauchos to head into the locker rooms with a 38-34 lead. Davis senior Jessica Campbell scored a game-high 25 points to keep her team in the game, but the Gauchos had too much depth and too much defense for an Aggies squad that became only the second Big West school to reach the championship game in its first season in the conference. With its performance, UC Davis clinched the conference’s automatic bid into the National Invitational Tournament.
Making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005, UCSB will take the court at approximately 6:30 this Sunday. The Gauchos are 7-11 in their previous trips to the Big Dance, but rarely has the team been this hot going into the tournament, as it has won 19 of its last 20 games. Virginia (23-9) is an at-large selection, but it should be the heavy favorites as it comes into the tournament ranked 23rd in the country. The Gauchos and Cavaliers faced off twice earlier this decade, with each team coming away with a victory. Sunday’s contest will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2 and can be heard live on KCSB 91.9 FM and www.kcsb.org.