February 23, 2006

Gauchos Escape Cal State Fullerton with 79-78 Win and Take Over Big West Lead

Feb. 23, 2006

Box Score

FULLERTON, Calif. - March Madness is just around the corner, and in a Big West Conference battle Thursday that had all the intensity of a postseason game, the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team held off Cal State Fullerton 79-78 in Titan Gym.

With the hard-fought win, the Gauchos improved to 13-11 overall and 8-3 in Big West play, moving percentage points ahead of Long Beach State (9-4) in the league standings due to the 49ers' loss on Thursday. Meanwhile the Titans fell to 9-16 and 6-7 in conference action following their third straight loss. Fullerton also fell to UCSB for the 25th consecutive time dating back to 1996.

Neither team amassed more than an eight-point lead, and the scoreboard read 39-38 in favor of the visitors at halftime before CSUF opened the second period on am 8-2 run capped by Charlee Underwood's old-fashioned three-point play at the 16:43 mark. The Gauchos rallied to knot the score at 48-48 two minutes later, and the two squads found themselves knotted on six more occasions, the last coming at 62-62 with 7:16 to play.

At that point, UCSB embarked on an 8-1 run capped by a dazzling series of events from Jessica Wilson. The sophomore guard made a block from behind then took the ball coast-to-coast before rolling in a layup that put her team ahead 69-63 at the 5:35 mark. Santa Barbara's lead reached 73-65 on a pair of Autumn Nichols' free-throws, but the Titans would not go away on their home court, where they were 8-2 this year entering Thursday's contest.

Freshman Toni Thomas hit a jumper and junior Andrea Adams followed with a three-pointer to get their deficit back 73-70 with 2:52 to play, but a three-point play by the Gauchos' Jenna Green upped the lead back to six with 2:12 left.

The Titans kept chipping away, getting a basket by junior Charlee Underwood and a three-pointer by senior Amber Pruitt sandwiched around a 1-for-2 performance at the line by UCSB's LaShay Fears got the Titans to within two points with 40 seconds left.

After two missed free throws by UC Santa Barbara's Jessica Wilson, Fullerton's last chance to tie was swiped away by Fears, who went in uncontested for a lay-up and a four-point Gaucho lead. Underwood came back down court and hit a three-pointer as time expired, but the Titans came up one point short.

Cal State Fullerton led by as many as seven points in a back-and-forth first half with 11:44 remaining, but an 11-4 run over the next two minutes by UC Santa Barbara tied the game at 21-21. The Titans led by no more than four points for the rest of the half, but the Gauchos took their first lead since early in the game thanks to a 6-1 run to close out the half and hold a 39-38 lead at the break. That was just seven points fewer than UCSB's total in its previous game, a 46-43 win over Long Beach State on Feb. 18.

Green paced all Gauchos with 19 points, bolstered by a seven-for-seven performance from the free-throw line. Meanwhile Nichols enjoyed her first double-double as a Gaucho with 14 points and a career-high 10 boards. Wilson matched that rebounding total, while sophomore guard Ana Onaindia tallied 10 points, all in the first half.

Underwood led a quartet of Titans in double figures with a game-high 21 points, hitting seven of her 11 shots. Thomas enjoyed a double-dip with 16 points and 10 boards, followed by Pruitt and Adams with 14 and 13 points, respectively.

UCSB plays its final road game Saturday at UC Riverside, facing the Highlanders in a 4:00 p.m. Big West battle.