Historically speaking, avid UC Santa Barbara women’s basketball fans have been able to pencil in two wins next to the Cal State Fullerton games when perusing the conference schedule, and why not? The last time Santa Barbara (6-12 overall, 3-3 in Big West) dropped a game to the Titans (8-11, 4-3) was back in 1995.
Since then, the Gauchos have recorded 33 consecutive victories over the state school, including three last year by an average of eight points. But even with all the history behind them, UCSB needed all its weapons to hold off Fullerton 60-59 Saturday at Titan Gym, including a buzzer-beater from senior forward Jordan Franey at the end of regulation and a clutch jumper from sophomore guard Emilie Johnson to seal the deal in double overtime.
“That was really a statement game,” Franey said. “It was a win that we absolutely needed.”
In a year in which Santa Barbara has struggled to maintain its place among the Big West elite, it was Fullerton that entered the weekend contest as the favorite, tied for first place with Cal Poly.
Boasting a staff with three players averaging double figures, CSUF looked to keep it close in the first half with the same perimeter-centered offense that UCSB has had trouble against recently, but only managed 1-10 first half three-point shooting. UCSB fared just as poorly — going 1-5 — but were able to keep it close due to their improved accuracy from the charity stripe.
“We’ve been encouraged to shoot extra free-throws each week,” Franey said. “We know that games really come down things we can control.”
In the second half, the Titans found their touch from downtown en route to a seven- point lead with just under two minutes elapsed. UCSB responded by forcing the issue down low, outscoring Fullerton 32-12 in the painted area while holding a 47-36 rebound edge for the game.
Despite their inspired post-play, UCSB trailed by 49-47 with 11 seconds left in regulation. Santa Barbara predictably ran a play for the sharpshooting Johnson to end the game, but the sophomore had her attempt blocked by the home team with four seconds left. However, Franey was able to recover the loose ball just in time to tie the game with a short jumper with .02 seconds left to force overtime. It was the senior’s only basket of the night.
“When it went in, we all were freaking out. I couldn’t believe it,” senior guard
Ariana Gnekow said.
UCSB again needed last-second heroics in the first overtime to extend the game, trailing by two with 18 seconds left. Senior guard Jasmine Scott had a chance to give Fullerton a three-point advantage at the line, but rimmed out the second shot, leaving the lead at two. That set up a quick Gaucho play at the other end of the court with Johnson finding junior center Mekia Valentine under the basket to force double overtime at 55 all.
In the final period, Santa Barbara would have the last say as Johnson buried a 12-footer with 29 seconds left to give UCSB the 60-59 edge. CSUF had one more chance to answer but ended the thriller on a forced three that missed badly.
“There were a lot of plays that contributed to [Johnson’s shot], and I think each person stepped up at the end in their own way,” Franey said.