March 4, 2006

Gauchos Top Cal State Northridge 85-63 to Claim Share of 11th Straight Big West Championship

March 4, 2006

Box Score

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team defeated Cal State Northridge 85-63 Saturday afternoon in the Thunderdome to earn a share of its unprecedented 11th consecutive Big West Conference regular season championship.

The Gauchos - who end the regular season 15-12 overall and 10-4 in league play - will share top honors with Long Beach State but have earned the No. 1 seed in next week's Big West Tournament. UCSB's 11 straight titles is the second-longest active streak of conference crowns in the country, trailing only Louisiana Tech which has won 14 in a row. Meanwhile the Matadors will enter the postseason at 8-19 overall and 5-6 in Big West play following their 16th consecutive defeat at the hands of Santa Barbara.

Gaucho seniors Karena Bonds and Autumn Nichols were honored prior to Saturday's tip-off, and the duo then tallied one basket apiece to commence UCSB's scoring. However both offenses were stagnant and turnover-prone to begin the contest, with CSUN holding a slim 21-19 lead at the 5:12 mark of the first half thanks to Katie Holloway's layuip. Santa Barbara sophomore guard Ana Onaindia countered with a three-pointer on the next trip down the court, and Jessica Wilson put the home team up three points with 2:05 to play before intermission.

The Gaucho lead mushroomed to seven points on two occasions before Northridge clawed back within 34-30 and had a chance to pull even closer in the waning moments of the period. However UCSB's Jenna Green hauled down a defensive rebound with six seconds remaining and fed the ball to freshman point guard LaShay Fears, who launched a 40-foot three-pointer that swished in as the buzzer sounded. Santa Barbara took a 37-30 lead into the locker rooms.

The Big West co-champs carried their momentum into the second half, scoring the first nine points ignited by a Jenna Green layup just 19 seconds in. A trifecta from Bonds at the 13:34 mark gave UCSB a 54-33 cushion, but the Matadors closed back within 14 points on two occasions including the 11:26 mark when Ashley Blake hit paydirt to make the scoreboard read 56-42. At that point, the Gauchos embarked on an 8-0 run spanning the next two minutes, and then opened their widest lead at 81-56 with 2:35 to play courtesy of Jessica Wilson's three-pointer. Santa Barbara shot a blistering 53.1% in the second period and sunk five-of-nine shots from beyond the arc.

Wilson led all scorers with 17 points, also tallying eight rebounds and a game-high five steals. Green contributed 15 points and nine boards, while Onaindia scored in double-figures for the third time in the last four games, amassing 10 points. Nichols and Bonds tallied eight and seven points, respectively, in what will likely be their final home game in the Thunderdome. Eighty-five points was UCSB's highest total in Big West play and third-best of the season.

Megan Ching and Jamie McCaa paced the Matadors with 11 points apiece, while Ching's 10 rebounds led all players. CSUN shot just 37.1% as a team ad committed 27 turnovers, including 17 before halftime.

The Gauchos will receive two byes in the Big West Tournament and begin their quest for a 10th-straight tourney title on Friday, March 10 in the semifinal round against the lowest remaining seed. Tip-off is slated for 12:00 p.m. in the Anaheim Convention Center. The winner of the Big West Tournament receives an automatic berth into the 64-team NCAA Championship field.