UCSB Women Win, Head to Big West Finals

Gauchos Handle Cal Poly 77-57

— UCSB and UC Davis, two teams that split a pair of overtime games during the regular season, will meet in the women’s championship game of the Big West basketball tournament Saturday, March 15. Tipoff will be shortly after 12 p.m. at the Anaheim Convention Center, and the game will be televised on Fox Sports Prime.

In Friday’s semifinals, UCSB’s Gauchos buried Cal Poly early en route to a 77-57 victory, and Davis unleashed a strong stretch run to defeat two-time defending champion UC Riverside 63-53.

For the Gaucho women, it will be their 12th consecutive appearance in the championship game, while Davis is playing in its very first postseason as a Division I program. The teams finished 1-2 in the league and had byes into the tournament semifinals.

UCSB (22-7) looked like the Gauchos of old – who won nine consecutive titles from 1997 to 2005 – in the first half of the Cal Poly game. They stormed out to a 49-20 lead, and midway through the second half they were ahead by 27 points (63-36).

Five UCSB players scored in double figures, led by junior guard Sha’Rae Gibbons with 15 points. Lauren Pedersen scored 12, Chisa Ononiwu 11, and Jessica Wilson and Whitney Warren 10 each.

The Gauchos, who needed an overtime period to dispose of Cal Poly a month ago, emphasized starting strongly in each half. “We shouted a ‘first four minutes’ cheer when we got out of our huddle,” Gibbons said.

Riverside had beaten the Gauchos in the finals the past two years. The difference this time, Coach Mark French said, is “bringing a better team to the championship game.”

But UC Davis (19-10) is eager to play the Cinderella role. The Aggies were the only Big West team to beat UCSB, and they did it in Santa Barbara: 59-56 in overtime on February 23. A month earlier, the Gauchos had to come from behind to win a 62-53 overtime game in Davis.

The winner of Saturday’s game will earn an automatic berth in the women’s NCAA tournament. Because they won the regular season title, the Gauchos are guaranteed a sport in the WNIT, a secondary postseason tournament, should they lose.

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