March 11, 2010
ANAHEIM, Calif. - The joke around the Big West Tournament in recent years has been that the annual conference tourney should be called "The Gaucho Invitational," because odds are the UC Santa Barbara women's team would wind up with the tournament trophy in their hands when all the games were done.
Even though this year's Gaucho team came in as the No. 5 seed, thus far in the first two days, it has closely resembled that so-called "Gaucho Invitational." UCSB, the two-time defending conference champs and a 13-time winner in the Big West Tournament, blew out a second consecutive opponent on Thursday, this time routing fourth-seeded Long Beach State, 73-50, as four Gauchos scored in double figures.
The 23-point win followed Wednesday's 28-point victory against Pacific and helped avenge a pair of regular-season losses to Long Beach, including the 49ers' first victory in the Thunderdome since 1991.
"We came out with energy today, attacked and applied pressure," said Meagan Williams, whose team will face No. 1 seed UC Davis on Friday at noon. "It definitely made the game easier. We're better than we were two weeks ago and we're always trying to get better."
Meagan Williams poured in 22 points to lead all players on Thursday, which followed her season-high 24 points vs. Pacific. The senior hit the 20-point plateau in consecutive games for the first time in her career. Emilie Johnson scored 18 points while Ariana Gnekow added 11.
Mekia Valentine recorded her third straight double-double with 11 points and 19 rebounds to go with five blocks. In the first two games of the tourney the junior has scored 31 points and grabbed 32 boards while swatting 13 shots.
"Of all the teams I've been around," head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said, "this is the most improved from November to March. True, we left ourselves a lot of room for improvement with our start. In December, the players came to me and said `Coach, how can we get better?' They've put in the time with film and practice to get here."
Long Beach State held a five-point lead with 14:47 left in the first half, but Williams kept the Gauchos in it by scoring four straight buckets before Gnekow's 3-pointer tied the game at 19-apiece. Williams' layup on Santa Barbara's next possession gave the Gauchos their first lead of the game - and one they never relinquished.
The Gauchos opened the second half on a 13-5 run to push their lead to 14 points and then The Big Three of Williams, Valentine and Johnson combined for 17 points in a game-deciding 21-3 advantage over eight-and-a-half minutes. That spurt gave UCSB a 69-39 lead with 3:47 left and ultimately a berth in Friday's semifinal game.
UCSB shot 49.1% from the floor and held LBSU to 29.3% - including a meager 19.4% mark in the second half - while outrebounding the 49ers 46-29. The Gauchos also had a terrific 15-9 assist to turnover ratio, committing their fewest turnovers of the season.
Friday's game vs. UC Davis will be broadcast live on AM 1490 and streaming live online at UCSBgauchos.com. The pregame show begins a half-hour prior to tip-off.
Follow the Gauchos and Their March to Madness
New this year, UCSB Athletics is making it easier than ever for fans to follow both the men's and women's basketball teams. Aside from live streaming audio of all the men's and women's games, fans can get in-game updates through our Twitter page at twitter.com/UCSBgauchos. Get highlight videos and behind-the-scenes looks of both teams through our our YouTube page at youtube.com/UCSBGauchosAthletics. And, be sure to join our growing legion of fans at facebook.com/UCSBAthletics. Also be sure to add Olé as a friend by searching "Olé Gaucho" on Facebook.
Friday's women's basketball game will be broadcast live on AM 1490 and also be available online, by clicking here..