ANAHEIM, Calif.- They had a shot at the end to win it.
After trailing by as much as 19 in the third quarter, it was remarkable that it came down to that.
The number four seed UCSB Gauchos put together a ferocious second half rally, but ultimately fell agonizingly short in dropping to the no. 2 Long Beach State 49ers 56-55 in the 2017 Big West Tournament Final Saturday evening at Honda Center.
"I'm proud of our group. We struggled at their place and were down 14 but we didn't quit. And, it was 14 again at the half today," said head coach Bonnie Henrickson.
"I'm a firm believer when you lose, don't lose the lesson, and I think we've learned lessons. We've learned to get tougher, have a collective confidence and position ourselves to have a shot to win it."
Sarah Porter finished with 12 points on the strength of four three pointers, but her last second shot from the left corner clattered the front of the rim, concluding the Gauchos 2016-17 season with a 16-16 record.
Drea Toler led all scorers with 16 points while dealing a game-high seven assists, and Drew Edelman recorded her ninth double-double of the season with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Toler, Edelman, and Porter were named to the Big West All Tournament team.
With runs of 7-0 and 12-2, UCSB erased a 38-19 deficit over an 8:40 stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters to turn the final 8:31 of the game in to a back-and-forth classic. The defense held Long Beach State to three-for-16 shooting in the third quarter, cracking the door open and allowing the deliberate climb back to begin.
"We just got really scrappy," assistant coach Nate Fripp said. "We were doubling off the ball, not designed- they saw the ball and went after it. We were rebounding, we were contesting shots, getting in passing lanes, pushing in transition to get an easy bucket."
Seven free-throws by the combination of Toler, Edelman, and Onome Jemerigbe helped kick the rally in to gear, with Edelman also adding a pair of battling buckets in the paint. Porter and Coco Miller splashed triples, and another Edelman score cut it to 42-40 49ers with 8:31 to play.
"It had to start with our defense. Some nights you don't score and when it's ugly and shots aren't falling you implode, but we had calmness and just had to guard harder," said Henrickson.
From there the Gauchos were never more than two possessions out of it, and when Miller and Toler knocked down three balls in back-to-back possessions, UCSB took their first lead of the game at 51-49 with 2:27 to play.
"They fought, battled, and just kept working. We went on a run defensively, got some easy shots, some transition shots, some and one, and some momentum," Fripp said.
But Madison Montgomery, whose 14 points trailed only tournament MVP Ana Kim's 15 on Long Beach, made a basket to tie it. After Toler slashed to score, Montgomery made a three from the top of the key to put the 49ers ahead for good. The decisive score came a play later, when Jewelyn Sawyer got inside for a putback that proved enough to hang on despite a pair of UCSB free throws.
The Gauchos struggled to make shots in the opening half, making just three of 14 first quarter and five of 17 second quarter shots. While able to break the full court pressure from Long Beach State, the defensive aggression by the 49ers prevented UCSB from getting in to rhythm.
"We weren't getting good, clean looks at the basket. The clean looks we did make were rushed. They did a good job of upping the tempo and making getting us uncomfortable, and it took us a while to get comfortable," said Fripp.
Long Beach State score nine of the game's first 11 points, and built up an 18-8 lead after one and a 33-19 spread at the break. They then notched the first five points on the board in the third quarter before the Gaucho rally began.
After posting a 12-20 record last season, UCSB again grew with a four-game improvement. The Big West Tournament title game appearance was the Gauchos' first since 2012, and a conference record 17th time playing for the title.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team. I'm disappointed in the outcome for them, but I am not disappointed in them," Henrickson said.