UCSB downs LBSU, wins Big West
Gauchos punch second consecutive NCAA Tournament ticket
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- All it took was one brief halftime conversation between UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams and senior guard Orlando Johnson.
The fifth-seeded Gauchos had blown a 10-point lead in the first half of the Big West tournament championship against Long Beach State on Saturday night and Johnson had only five points in the first 20 minutes.
“Coach asked me, ‘Could you make a shot?”’ Johnson recalled.
He promised Williams he would.
Johnson scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime and the Gauchos beat the 49ers 64-56 to win the Big West crown and earn their second consecutive trip to the NCAAs.
Fourth-seeded Santa Barbara (18-13) also beat Long Beach State (22-11) in last year’s conference tournament final.
“If you would have guessed two weeks ago that we would have been here … I don’t think you would have found two people in Southern California to go along with that,” Williams said.
Two weeks ago, the Gauchos were feeling the sting of an 18-point loss to Long Beach State. The Gauchos made several adjustments on defense and haven’t lost since.
“Defensively, they went back to basics,” Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said. “It was almost all man-to-man. You have to give them credit for a team that played three months of zone.”
Casper Ware scored 14 points for the 49ers, who shot just under 29 percent (19 for 66).
Santa Barbara became the first No. 5 seed to win the Big West tournament. The last time a team seeded as low won the crown was in 1996, when sixth-seed San Jose State beat Utah State.
Long Beach State fell behind by 10 in the first half before clawing back to tie it at 27 at halftime. Santa Barbara took control with a 14-4 run midway through the second half.
The 49ers pulled within six points in the closing minutes, but a 3-pointer by Jon Pastorek with a second left on the shot clock and pair of free throws by James Nunnally gave the Gauchos a 61-50 lead with 1:19 left.
The Gauchos, who fell to Ohio State in the opening round of the NCAAs last year, lost six of 10 games entering the conference tournament.
“I think last year a lot of us were happy to be there and be in the tournament,” Johnson said after picking up his second consecutive tournament MVP award. “I think this year we have a veteran group. We’ve seen what the tournament is like and we’ve seen what can happen in a tournament.”