ANAHEIM, Calif.- From the beginning of the season, Onome Jemerigbe and the Gauchos knew what their goal was.
Now, they're one game away from realizing it.
The senior and redshirt junior Drea Toler wreaked havoc on both sides of the ball all afternoon as UCSB knocked off the Big West regular season champion UC Davis Aggies 73-59 Friday afternoon at Honda Center.
"At the beginning of the season coach Bonnie asked us what were our goals; we want to win it all. Everybody's in it to win it all," said Jemerigbe.
Toler lead all scorers with 23 points, while dishing out a game-high seven assists, with Jemerigbe scoring a career-high 21 and adding five helpers, five rebounds, and a contest-best four steals. Drew Edelman was the third Gaucho player in double digits, scoring 12, while Sarah Porter lead the team with eight rebounds and three steals in playing the full 40 minutes.
The Gauchos (16-15) shot 50% from the field against the top-ranked Aggie (23-7) defense, turning in a perfect third quarter where they knocked down all ten of their shots. Meanwhile they held the conference's best shooting offense below their season average of a 43.1 field goal percentage in three of the quarters.
"It was a product of 'this is what they did the first game', 'this is what they did the second game because we cleaned that up', then we felt like defensively put a whole half end and baseline to baseline together, and that was much better for us," head coach Bonnie Henrickson said.
Davis leading scorer Morgan Bertsch managed just nine field goal attempts, scoring twelve and fouling out with 3:34 remaining thanks to a blanketing team defense. UCSB held the Aggies two first team all Big West selections to seven-of-19 shooting, with Pele Gianotti also notching twelve points, as Rachel Nagel shouldered the load with 18 points.
"Our ball pressure was better, we brought some help, [Jemerigbe and Toler] were about getting in to her," said Henrickson. "That takes a collective, I said Bertch has got to feel like five people are guarding her by crowding her, and that is out of massive respect out of how good that kid is."
The Gauchos forced 15 turnovers by Davis, converting them to 20 points, while surrendering the ball 11 times but allowing just nine off their giveaways.
"We did us. We got up in to people, we defended, we forced 15 turnovers and honestly it felt like 20, so we were flying all over the place," associate head coach Evan Unrau said.
The Aggies put UCSB on the back foot early, scoring the game's first seven points and forcing an early timeout. From there the Gauchos battled back to score the next seven, and thereafter the game teeter-tottered back and forth with neither side able to build more than a one possession lead until Coco Miller made a layup with 2:47 remaining before halftime.
UCSB looked to be set to take the lead at the break when Toler knocked down a left corner triple as the shot clock expired with nine seconds remaining, but Nagel was able to race to mid-court and bank a half court heave in from the near sideline for a 31-30 halftime advantage for UC Davis.
It was during frame three that UCSB turned a three point deficit in to a seven point lead, scoring 14 points while allowing just four made free throws over a 5:22 stretch. From there the Gauchos never looked back, as the lead wouldn't dip below five points the remainder of the way.
Jemerigbe made a pair of threes with the shot clocking clicking towards zero as part of the run. Then, when the Aggies crept within five for the final time on a made three, Toler sunk one from downtown in response to raucous cheers from the Gaucho bench. Miller put an exclamation point on the afternoon with a final depth charge with 2:50 remaining.
The players celebrated in the locker room, and with families and fans in the stands after the game, but didn't let the good feelings linger too long.
"It was joy, it was so happy, but we have to remember that we have another game, it's not over yet," Toler said.
UCSB will play in a Big West Tournament-record 17th championship game, making the final for the first time since 2012, tomorrow against no. 2 Long Beach State at the Honda Center at 4PM. A live audio-only play-by-play broadcast feed will be available on UCSBGauchos.com beginning at 3:45 PM, with television coverage on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.
"We have another job, we've got two really good teams waiting to knockout punch us in the mouth," said Henrickson.