There was good news and bad news for UCSB at the NCAA women’s basketball selection show Monday. The Gauchos will play their first-round game at the Cox Arena in San Diego, and they will be matched against Stanford, the nation’s second-ranked team. The Cardinal (29-4) bring a 16-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament. They cruised to the Pacific-10 championship, defeating USC 89-64 in the conference tournament final. The UCSB-Stanford game will take place Saturday at approximately 7:30 p.m. following a matchup between DePaul and host San Diego State. ESPN2 will televise the game.
The Big Dance will be a debutante’s ball for Lindsay Gottlieb. She is going into the NCAA women’s basketball tournament with the UCSB Gauchos in her first year as a head coach.
UCSB earned its entry through the gates of March Madness with a 64-57 victory over an inspired Cal Poly team in Saturday’s championship game of the Big West tournament at Anaheim. The Gaucho women played in the final game for the 13th consecutive year and won it for the 11th time.
During the NCAA women’s selection show (4 p.m. Monday on ESPN) , the Gauchos will find out where they will go dancing next weekend. There are 16 sites around the country for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, which starts Saturday, March 21. Because they will not be one of the higher seeded teams in the field of 64, the NCAA may send them to another region; last year, it was Virginia. Their fans would certainly prefer going to Los Angeles (USC), San Diego (SDSU), or even Seattle (Washington).
Regardless of their assignment, Gottlieb said she’ll always remember her journey with these Gauchos. “I hope I have a long career,” the 31-year-old coach said. “I hope I’m fortunate to win other championships. But this team right now is one I will never forget.”
Cal Poly made history with its first appearance in the conference final, and the Mustangs might have upset UCSB but for the following factors:
COMPOSURE: Everything seemed to be going against the Gauchos in the first 12 minutes of the game. They coughed up the basketball time after time, and the aggressive Mustangs raced out to a 27-12 lead. At that point, Gaucho junior Jordan Franey botched an easy inbound pass, possibly the most ungainly turnover in the tournament. But that also marked a turning point. The Gauchos seemed to say, “Enough of that nonsense,” and proceeded to outscore Cal Poly 19-7, making the halftime score a manageable 34-31 in favor of the Mustangs. Franey made two outstanding baskets in the surge, and when she successfully tossed the ball inbound following a timeout, her face lit up in a big smile. “There’s something called Gaucho Heart,” Gottlieb said. “I saw it today.”
THE BENCH: Franey was one of three Gaucho reserves who had a huge impact on the game. UCSB’s bench outscored Cal Poly’s, 29-14. Junior forward Chris Spencer scored a career-high 11 points. She put the Gauchos ahead 57-56 with a reverse layup off a rebound and blocked a shot by Cal Poly’s leading scorer Megan Harrison in the final minute. Freshman point guard Emilie Johnson scored 13 points, including a big three that tied the score at 54-all. She was on the floor instead of senior Sha’Rae Gibbons down the home stretch. When the final horn sounded, Gibbons ran off the bench and hugged Johnson.
JENNA GREEN: Cal Poly’s defense continually threw double-teams at Green, but UCSB’s 6’4″ senior finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, her seventh double-double of the year. The key play of the game was Green’s layup and free throw with 29 seconds remaining that put UCSB ahead, 60-56. It was a triple play: Senior guard Lauren Pederson found Green cutting to the hoop after Johnson broke down Cal Poly’s defense with a drive and dish out to Pedersen. The tournament MVP award went to Pedersen, who scored 23 points in UCSB’s 60-52 semifinal win over Cal State Fullerton, but Green was the most dominant player in the final.
FREE THROWS: Many a postseason game is won or lost at the charity stripe. Cal Poly stunned UC Riverside 57-56 in the semifinals after the Highlanders missed several clutch free throws in the final minute. The Mustangs had a similar opportunity Saturday, but the Gauchos made five consecutive free throws in the last 30 seconds. They have made 75.8 percent of their free throws, a school-record percentage and the 13th best in the nation this year.
AS FOR THE GAUCHO MEN :
UCSB had to face a pair of nemeses in the Big West men’s tournament. The Gauchos took care of Cal State Fullerton by a 73-64 score in the quarterfinals, as freshman guard James Nunnally (15 points) led five UCSB players in double figures. But then the team of destiny, Cal State Northridge, proved to be too much. The Matadors raced past UCSB in Friday’s semifinals, 67-60, and they held off Pacific in overtime late Saturday, 71-66, to win the championship and NCAA bid. Rodrigue Mels, Northridge’s 6’3″ senior guard from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, destroyed the Gauchos with 28 points and added 23 against Pacific to nab MVP honors. UCSB’s senior forward Chris Devine scored 16 points in his last collegiate game and made the all-tournament team. Anybody who likes college sports, not just basketball, has to love the ever-hustling Devine.
In a classy gesture, Gaucho men’s coach Bob Williams and most of his team remained in Anaheim to watch the women’s final Saturday. The loyal fan following of the Gaucho women filled a section of the Convention Center, but there was a dearth of UCSB students other than the band, the cheerleaders, and Ole, the hirsute Gaucho mascot who made his debut at the tournament.
Also in attendance was Mark French, who retired as the women’s head coach a year ago after winning 438 games and taking the Gauchos to 12 NCAA tournaments in 21 seasons. French was interviewed by Fox Sports TV announcers Paul Sunderland and Ann Meyers-Drysdale during the second half of the game. He recalled with fondness UCSB’s appearance in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen against Connecticut in 2004, when Meyers-Drysdale, who also worked that game, came to the Gauchos’ locker room afterward to congratulate them on their effort. They lost by eight (63-55) to the eventual national champions.
French had to endure three losing seasons before he got the Gaucho women’s program on track. Now Gottlieb, a former assistant at Cal, has taken the torch and will go into the NCAA tournament with a 22-9 record.