March 12, 2011
ANAHEIM, Calif. - UC Santa Barbara picked a pretty opportune time to put together its first four-game winning streak of the season.
On Saturday, the fifth-seeded Gauchos (18-13) beat the No. 1 seed, Long Beach State (22-11), 64-56. It was their fourth consecutive win, the last three of which came at the 2011 ampm Big West Tournament. With its championship game win on Saturday night, UCSB qualifies for the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
The UCSB Athletics Department will host an NCAA Tournament selection show get-together in the ICA Building on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. The show airs at 3:00 p.m.
"This one was pretty special," said head coach Bob Williams after his team led from nearly start-to-finish against a team that had beaten them badly twice during the regular season. "Who would have guessed three weeks ago that we would be here? I don't know that you would have two people in our locker room, two people on our campus, two people in Southern California who would have said we would be here. I said to the guys before the game that some people play in big games and other people win big games. We came in with an attitude and a confidence about us."
Tournament MVP Orlando Johnson scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half. He also made two huge three-point baskets midway through the second half to spark the victory. Jaimé Serna had14 points and eight rebounds and James Nunnally added 12 points and seven rebounds. Both Serna and Nunnally were selected to the All-Tournament Team.
Jon Pastorek scored five points, but he also pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds and was a pivotal defensive player as the Gauchos limited the 49ers to 28.8% shooting.
"I easily could have seen him on the all-tournament team," Williams said of Pastorek. "He went against (Sam) Willard in the first game and held him almost to a season-low. He went against Lenny Daniels (Northridge) and held him way down. Jon had a huge influence on this game defensively, going against T.J. (Robinson), another all-league player. Look at the combined shooting percentages of those three players in those three games, and you look at the fact that we had to win this thing defensively."
The trio of Willard, Daniels and Robinson combined to make 10-of-41 shots during the tournament, 24.4%.
UCSB jumped out to a 19-9 lead just over eight minutes into the game, but Long Beach battled back and actually took a 26-25 lead on a three-pointer by Greg Plater with 2:42 remaining in the half. A lay-up by Serna and a free throw and a Robinson free throw made the score 27-27 at halftime.
After the 49ers took a brief lead at the outset of the second half, the last one coming at 36-35 on a lay-up by Robinson with 13:48 left. The Gauchos then went on a 10-0 run, the last eight coming on an acrobatic lay-up and back-to-back threes by Johnson, the second coming with 9:19 remaining and pushing the UCSB lead to 45-36.
The 49ers wound barely eat into the Santa Barbara lead the rest of the way, coming within six three times, but never getting closer. Long Beach's final rally was squelched by Pastorek who made a three-pointer from deep in the corner with 1:31 left on the clock, giving the Gauchos a 59-50 lead.
UCSB made just enough free throws down the stretch (5-of-8) to secure its second straight league crown and NCAA Tournament bid. It marks the first time that the program has advanced to consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
"On the Monday after we lost to Long Beach the last time, we had a players only meeting," said Johnson, whose 23 points on Saturday evening gives him 653 on the season, a new school record. "I told the guys `they're league champs and we can't do anything about that, but we can worry about the tournament,' and we focused on that."
Williams and Johnson both acknowledged the defensive job that senior point guard Justin Joyner did on 49er guard Casper Ware, the Big West Player of the Year who made 5-of-17 shots overall and 2-of10 from three-point range for 14 points.
"That was the key," Johnson said. "J.J. really wanted to set the tone and go after him defensively. On the backline we just wanted to be there to help and make sure we were making Ware's life as difficult as can be. You look at J.J. who could have been the defensive player of the year. It helps to have a guy like that."
As a team, UCSB made 50.0% of its shots while Long Beach made just 19-of-66 overall, 28.8%, and 4-of-17 from three-point territory, 23.5%.