Gauchos Top Rival Cal Poly 64-52, Advance to Third Straight Big West Championship Game
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Orlando Johnson scored 20 points and James Nunnally had 13 as No. 3-seeded UC Santa Barbara pulled away in the last five minutes for a 64-52 win over Cal Poly Friday night in the second semifinal game of the Big West Conference Tournament.
The Gauchos (20-9) will play No. 1-seeded Long Beach State at 7 p.m. Saturday for the championship and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. It's the third year in a row the schools have met in the finals and the Gauchos are two-time defending champions.
"I think it's a great thing for this conference that we will have played Long Beach three straight years," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "Our sophomores played their sophomores, our juniors played their juniors and now, our seniors will play their seniors. It's fitting."
The No. 4-seeded Mustangs (18-15) got 19 points and 6 rebounds from David Hanson and 11 points from Amaurys Fermin but lost to UCSB for the third time this season.
Johnson scored 10 of his points in the final 7:37 as UCSB finished with an 18-5 run. The Gauchos used an 8-0 spurt to turn a precarious 50-49 lead into a 58-49 advantage. Johnson had a 3-point play at 4:19 and a clinching 3-point basket at 1:30 to bracket two Christian Peterson free throws.
UCSB made 6 of 6 free throws in the final 34 seconds after missing a pair of one-and-ones that gave the Mustangs life. Alan Williams led all rebounders with 10.
Cal Poly held its only lead of the second half at 47-46 at 9:01 on two Chris Eversley free throws. It shot only 30 percent from the floor in the second half and made only 3 of 12 3-point tries.
UCSB's biggest lead of the game was 5 points until the final 3 minutes.
UCSB has won seven Big West Tourney games in a row to trail only the record 10 by UNLV in the late 1980s. The win gave Coach Bob Williams his fourth 20-win season in 14 years at UCSB.
Cal Poly took an early 13-8 lead after a Hanson 3-pointer nine minutes in. The Mustangs took their biggest advantage at 23-15 on another trey by Hanson. But a 3-pointer by Keegan Hornbuckle and a back-to-back pair by Johnson pulled UCSB within 25-24 and a Cal Poly turnover led to a Kyle Boswell layup for a 26-25 Gaucho advantage.
A 3-pointer by Fermin returned the lead to the Mustangs at 29-28 at 2:35 and Hanson added a short hook shot to make it 31-28. UCSB got a jumper from Nunnally and an acrobatic bank shot at the buzzer by Johnson to take a 32-31 lead into the locker room.
The halftime statistics were as close as the score. Both teams shot 46 percent, Cal Poly had 15 rebounds and 4 turnovers to 14 rebounds and 2 turnovers by UCSB. Each team missed 2 free throws. Hanson led Cal Poly with 12 points and Johnson had 10 for UCSB.
Tipoff for the third title game between UCSB and Long Beach State is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.