March 6, 2008
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Chisa Ononiwu scored 19 points to lead four players in double figures as UC Santa Barbara pulled away from visiting Cal State Northridge in a 71-58 Big West basketball victory Thursday night at the Thunderdome. Margaret Johnson added a career-best 14 points and Ashlee Brown finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds in the win.
The Gauchos, who have now won 16 of their last 17 games, improved to 20-7 overall, reaching the 20 win mark for the first time since the 2004-05 season. The Big West regular season champs enter Saturday's finale with a conference record of 14-1.
"It's always nice to win 20 games in a season, but the number we're really after is 23 wins because that will put us in the NCAA Tournament," head coach Mark French said. "I'm not sure the effort and preparation we showed tonight will get us there."
With Jessica Wilson and Kat Suderman serving one-game suspensions for their role in an altercation last weekend at UC Riverside, UCSB struggled to get it going without its top two scorers and finished shooting a season-low 28% (19-68) from the field. Fortunately, the struggling Matadors (1-25, 0-15 Big West) weren't much better, shooting just 29% (15-51).
One Gaucho that did shoot the ball well was Ononiwu, finishing 4-of-8 from the field and 11-of-12 at the charity stripe in 28 minutes off the bench. She finished with 19 points - her highest total since scoring a season-high 20 in the loss to No. 3 Maryland November 23 - and eight rebounds, also a high mark for the year.
Johnson has been playing extremely well since earning a spot in the starting lineup against Cal Poly on February 16 and made four of her eight field goal attempts on the way to a new career mark. The freshman added six rebounds against the Matadors.
Brown followed her career-high 22-point performance in the win over the Highlanders with another solid effort Thursday night. Despite shooting just 3-of-14, she recorded her second double-double in the last three games, finishing with 11 points and 13 rebounds. The Good Year, Ariz. native also finished with a career-high four steals.
Sophomore Meagan Williams made her first start since December 29 in place of Wilson and tallied 11 points, five rebounds, and two steals.
Santa Barbara shook off a sluggish start and an 8-3 deficit to take a 16-8 lead with 7:43 remaining in the first half. Ononiwu knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Gauchos a 22-13 cushion three minutes later, but the Matadors' Ashley Blake hit a three pointer from the wing to ignite a 12-3 CSUN spurt over the final 4:35 of the half.
UCSB quickly saw its nine-point lead erased and the two teams went into the locker room tied at 25-25.
The Gauchos scored the first seven points of the second half before the Matadors responded with eight of the next nine to pull even again (33-33) with 16:23 remaining. But Brown and Ononiwu converted four straight at the line and Lauren Pedersen hit a jumper to put UCSB back in front by six with 14:14 left to play.
Santa Barbara led 43-40 two and a half minutes later before a Whitney Warren layup sparked what became a decisive 14-3 Gaucho run over the next five minutes. UCSB took a commanding 57-43 lead with 5:47 left to play.
Northridge was able to trim the advantage down to just six following two free throws from Katie Holloway, but Ononiwu hit a jumper in transition and then sank two more at the line to extend the lead back to 10 with just over a minute remaining.
Holloway led all scorers with 29 points on 7-for-15 shooting and finished 15-of-21 at the stripe. She also finished with a game-high 14 rebounds and two blocks. Playing in her final game in the Thunderdome, the senior forward fouled out with 1:03 left to play and received a standing ovation from the Santa Barbara faithful.
Even without its top two rebounders, UCSB controlled the glass 54-44 and recorded a total of 28 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 second chance points.
When it was all said and done, the game featured 49 fouls, 81 free throws, and 45 turnovers.
The Gauchos will wrap up the regular season this Saturday against Long Beach State at 2:00 p.m., before heading to Anaheim for the Big West Tournament next week. Seniors Wilson and Ononiwu will be honored with a special ceremony before tip-off.