March 5, 2009
RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Lauren Pedersen scored a career-high 28 points and carried the Gauchos to the Big West regular-season championship with a 65-59 victory over UC Riverside on Thursday night at the Student Recreation Center.
The back-and-forth game wasn't clinched until Pedersen knocked down two free throws with 14 seconds left to put UCSB up by four, giving the Gauchos their second consecutive regular-season title. UCSB (19-9 overall, 14-1 Big West) will be the No. 1 seed at next week's Big West Tournament in Anaheim. The winner of the tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
UCSB has won 10 of the past 12 Big West Tournaments.
Pedersen had 17 of her points in the second half as she drained both of her three-pointers in the second stanza and sank five of her 10 free throws.
UCSB needed every bit of Pedersen's career night as Kemie Nkele scored 29 points to lead the Highlanders (18-10, 13-2). However Nkele, who scored her 2,000th career point on Thursday night, was the only UCR player in double figures.
Pedersen had some help.
Jenna Green scored 14 points, pushing her over the 1,500-point mark for her career and becoming one of only nine Gauchos in history to accomplish that feat. Emilie Johnson came off the bench to add 11 while also grabbing five rebounds. Meagan Williams added six rebounds - tied with Green for the most on the team - and Jordan Franey added four points and four boards.
UCSB trailed, 32-31, at the half as Nkele had 14 of her points in the first half and the Highlanders took advantage of 11 UCSB turnovers. But the Gauchos stormed out of the locker rooms and pushed their lead all the way to 41-34 with 17:06 to play.
The Highlanders, however, battled back. They went on a 9-0 spurt to retake the lead and then went up 52-46 with 10:02 left.
Pedersen, though, wouldn't let the Gauchos wilt. In a span of three-and-a-half minutes she made three layups and three free throws to tie the game at 55-55, one of 10 total ties on the night. Green hit consecutive jumpers to make it 61-57 with 2:26 left before Nkele knocked down a pair of free throws leading up to the final minute.
Odds are high that the Gauchos and Highlanders could meet again in next week's Big West Tournament. Make sure to get your tickets now by clicking here because with every ticket purchased, fans get a free UCSB T-shirt.