UCSB needs its third consecutive payback victory to earn a berth in the NCAA men’s basketball championships. The Gauchos will face Long Beach State at 5 p.m. today (Saturday, March 12) in the Big West Tournament final at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The game will be televised on ESPN2, with live coverage also available through ucsbgauchos.com..
To reach the conference final, the Gauchos whipped two teams that had swept them during the regular season – Pacific (79-67) and Cal State Northridge (83-63). Long Beach State also defeated UCSB twice – by scores of 71-55 and 71-53 – en route to the regular season championship.
Orlando Johnson poured in 32 points against Pacific on Thursday – the most ever scored by a UCSB player in the tournament – and scorched Northridge with 30 more points. Johnson, a junior guard, was the 2010 Big West Player of the Year. He has been succeeded by Long Beach senior Casper Ware, who leads a balanced 49er offense with five players scoring in double figures for the season.
Johnson (21.0 average) and James Nunnally (16.5) have been the Gauchos’ go-to players. Coach Bob Williams says it’s important for them to have a third option, and forward Jaime Serna provided just that against Northridge with 16 points and nine rebounds.