Feb. 17, 2011
FULLERTON, Calif. - It was a fitting end to a physical game, except the Gaucho on the ground this time had a smile on her face.
After hitting the final two free throws, Emilie Johnson corralled the final last-ditch three-point attempt by Cal State Fullerton before being upended as the buzzer went off, signaling UC Santa Barbara's 73-70 victory.
The Gauchos outlasted the Titans in a physical contest, winning for the fifth time in their past six games. UCSB is now 15-10 overall and 9-4 in the Big West. CSUF falls to 8-18, 4-9.
Johnson led the Gauchos with 13 points, five rebounds and two assists while Mekia Valentine had 11 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots. Margaret Johnson had a season-best 10 points, Melissa Zornig had 10 off the bench and Sweets Underwood chipped in eight points and nine boards.
Despite overwhelming the Titans in nearly every category, this was clearly not the same Fullerton team the Gauchos dominated nearly a month ago in the Thunderdome. When the Gauchos' lead swelled to double digits - UCSB led 63-48 with 7:12 left - the Titans didn't roll over.
"Fullerton can hit shots," UCSB head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "They have shooters. It didn't surprise me they hit shots. We need to close out a game better. That said, I'll take the win.
CSUF found the Gauchos' Achilles heel - the turnover - and forced its way back into the game.
Megan Richardson, who entered Thursday as the Big West's fifth-leading scorer, started heating up. Her jumper cut UCSB's lead to nine, then she buried consecutive three-pointers to bring the Titans closer at 71-67 with 1:20 to play.
Another Gaucho turnover - the team had 22 on the night - allowed Lauren Chow to hit a trey, bringing CSUF within a single point.
Johnson was intentionally fouled, but the junior calmly sank both free throws to finish off Fullerton.
And, if you consider that turnovers are the Gauchos' Achilles heel, then free throw shooting is UCSB's tennis elbow. Santa Barbara opened the game last in the conference in foul shooting, but hit 22 of 24 on the night.
It's a good thing, too, as the teams combined for 37 fouls and 41 free throws.
"Free throws are something we've struggled with this year," said senior forward Margaret Johnson, who was 4-for-4. "It's not so much a skill thing. It's a mental game for us. We do them every day. We need to know we can knock them down. If we miss them in practice, we have to run. So we better make them."