January 12, 2008

UCSB Claws Its Way Back To Defeat Cal State Fullerton 59-58 In Overtime

Jan. 12, 2008

Box Score

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Trailing 46-36 with 5:37 remaining in regulation, UC Santa Barbara scored 12 unanswered points to take its first lead of the game and went on to defeat visiting Cal State Fullerton 59-58 in overtime Saturday afternoon in the Thunderdome. Jessica Wilson led the charge, scoring 11 of her 17 points during the final four minutes of regulation and in the overtime period.

UCSB has now won five straight to improve to 9-6 overall in 2007-08 and remains perfect in Big West play at 4-0 with the victory. Santa Barbara has dominated the series with Fullerton (2-12, 1-2) over the last several years, winning the previous 29 meetings. The Gauchos have not lost to the Titans since February 26, 1995, when they dropped an 89-86 decision in Fullerton. Although UCSB has had Cal State Fullerton's number recently, the last six meetings have been decided by less than 10 points.

The Gauchos have made a habit of treating their home fans to thrilling comeback victories this season and Saturday's overtime win was just the latest installment. On November 11 against USC, Santa Barbara trailed the entire game and then used a 16-3 run over the final 4:40 of regulation to get back into it. Wilson capped off the run with a game-tying jumper as time expired and UCSB went on to win 69-63 in overtime. On December 17, the Gauchos trailed Pepperdine 63-56 with 1:40 remaining before scoring the game's final nine points. Santa Barbara won 65-63 after Chisa Ononiwu knocked down the go-ahead jumper with four seconds left to play.

Following a lackluster effort for nearly 35 minutes, the Gauchos were able to turn it around and gave the Thunderdome faithful a similar performance on Saturday.

After Fullerton took its biggest lead of 10 points (46-36) on a jumper by Daviyonn Weathersby with 5:37 on the clock, Sha'Rae Gibbons knocked down a three to start the Gauchos' run. Wilson then hit a pair of free-throws on UCSB's next possession, Ashlee Brown scored inside, and Wilson followed with a three-point play -- scoring in the paint after a big steal by Lauren Pedersen -- to tie the game at 46-46. Pedersen hit two at the line 22 seconds later and, just like that, Santa Barbara took its first lead of the afternoon, 48-46 with 1:35 left to play.

But the Titans kept their composure after blowing the big lead and Jasmine Scott answered with a mid-range jumper to knot the game at 48-48 the next time down. The Gauchos came up empty on the ensuing possession and Toni Thomas hit a pair of free-throw to give Fullerton a 50-48 lead with 35 seconds remaining.

After a CSUF timeout, Pedersen found Kat Suderman in excellent position on the block and the San Luis Obispo, Calif. native calmly turned and kissed a shot off the glass to tie the game at 50 with 17 seconds left on the clock.

Whitney Warren then came up with a big steal with two seconds remaining to deny the Titans any chance of winning it in regulation and the game went to overtime.

At that point Wilson took over, giving the Gauchos the lead for good when she sank two more free-throws 50 seconds into the extra session. UCSB later held its biggest advantage of the afternoon at 55-51 after the Sacramento, Calif. native dribbled through the key and converted a running jumper.

Santa Barbra led 59-55 after two Suderman free-throws and the Titans' Lauren Chow knocked down a long three as time expired for the final 59-58 margin.

Wilson scored six of the Gauchos' nine points in overtime and finished with a team-high 17 for the game. She also led the squad with 11 rebounds, six of which came in the final five minutes. The double-double was Wilson's second this season and the ninth of her career.

Suderman reached double figures for the fifth straight game, tallying 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting in a career-high 33 minutes.

Thomas was excellent for Fullerton in the loss, leading all scorers with 24 points, while pulling down a game-high 16 rebounds. The 2006-07 Big West scoring champion, Thomas finished 8-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-4 from behind the arc.

Chow added 10 points and five assists for Cal State Fullerton.

The Gauchos' victory did not come easy, as they had to fight through a horrendous start. UCSB missed 12 of its first 14 shots and turned the ball over eight times in the first 10 minutes of play. Fullerton took a 9-2 lead 3:32 in and led 13-5 with 12:43 remaining in the first half. The Titans led by as many as nine points in the opening period and held a 27-21 advantage at halftime.

"It certainly wasn't out best performance of the year and you really have to credit Fullerton for that," head coach Mark French said. "They played extremely hard and extremely well and gave us a lot of trouble for most of the game.

"The key for us is to figure out how to play like we did in the last five minutes of regulation for a full 40 minutes. We won't meet our potential if we become the type of team that believes it can just turn it on whenever it needs to. Good teams turn it on when they step on the court and never turn it off."

Statistically, it was a very balanced game. Santa Barbara shot 34.4% (21-61), while Fullerton finished one shot better at 36.1% (22-61). Both teams made four triples and the rebound totals were even and 42 apiece. The Titans turned it over 21 times, while the Gauchos finished with 19.

The difference came at the foul line, where UCSB was 13-of-19, compared to 10-of-14 for the visitors. The Gauchos also outscored the Titans 24-14 in the paint and the Santa Barbara bench outscored Fullerton's reserves 18-6.

UCSB now has six days off to prepare for central coast rival Cal Poly next weekend. The Gauchos will square off with the Mustangs, who are also unbeaten in conference play, next Saturday at 4:00 p.m. in Mott Gym.

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