The Westmont women’s basketball team battled for the championship last Saturday. “We’re built for the long haul,” said Coach Kirsten Moore. “Deep in games, fatigue doesn’t affect us.” | Credit: Caleb Jones

Good to the last drop. That was the story of UCSB’s regular-season finales, which the Gaucho men’s and women’s teams both won on buzzer-beating shots.

JaQuori McLaughlin did the deed last Saturday night at the Thunderdome. His fall-away jumper in the lane gently touched the rim and the backboard before settling into the hoop as time expired, boosting the Gauchos to a 69-67 victory over Cal Poly. The largest home crowd of the season went into a frenzy at the dramatic conclusion.

Even more stunning was the Gaucho women’s 57-56 win at Hawai‘i three nights earlier. They were on the verge of a disappointing loss when the Wahine took a 56-55 lead with nine seconds remaining. The time was down to four seconds after a Hawai‘i foul forced them to inbound the ball from the sideline. Junior guard Danae Miller took the pass, dribbled toward the baseline and, with 0.2 seconds showing, tossed up a floater that swished through the net.

March Madness has arrived. The tension will go several notches higher this week at the Big West Tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The UCSB men are seeded No. 3 and will open against No. 6 UC Riverside at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12. Win three games, and they will qualify for the NCAA’s Big Dance.

The Gaucho women are within two victories of the prize. They earned a No. 2 seed and have a bye to the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Friday, March 13.

The favorites are the regular-season champions: UC Irvine’s men, who return several players from a team that won an NCAA first-round game against Kansas State last year, and UC Davis’s women.

Parity has been the word throughout college basketball this season. The Gaucho men (21-10) won their home game against Irvine (21-11) on February 8, but in their return match, after All-Big West guard Max Heidegger suffered a severe ankle injury, the Anteaters prevailed.

One bad quarter cost the UCSB women in a 66-63 defeat at UC Davis. Ila Lane, named the Big West Freshman of the Year, is a big reason the Gauchos improved from 8-22 last year to 14-15 (9-7 in the conference) this season. The 6′4″ center is the leading rebounder in NCAA Division 1, averaging 13 a game.

Coach Bonnie Henrickson said Lane’s rebounding was more than a result of her size and technique: “It’s her want-to … her desire to chase down loose balls.” I can attest to that, seeing Lane dive headlong at midcourt the first time I watched her play.

On second thought, parity is not in the vocabulary of Westmont College women’s basketball. The Warriors are small — their starting lineup goes 5′0″, 5′3″, 5′5″, 5′7″, and 5′11″ — but they have been mighty of heart and peerless in execution while cutting their last 14 opponents down to size.

They went up against the last team to beat them, The Master’s Mustangs, in Saturday’s championship game of the Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament at Murchison Gym. Led by phenomenal 6′6″ sophomore Stephanie Soares, who ended up with a 35-point, 22-rebound game, the visitors raced out to a 9-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Yet the Warriors were brimming with confidence.

Westmont coach Kirsten Moore’s message to the team during a timeout: “Everybody take a deep breath. See the ball going in; the next shots are going in. These are our rims. You’ve shot thousands of shots on these rims.”

Play resumed with a three-point bucket by Westmont’s 5′0″ guard Lauren Tsuneishi, another three by center Kaitlin Larson, a short jumper by Stefanie Berberabe, and a three by Maud Ranger. It was 11-11. Game on.

The Mustangs did not go away. Early in the fourth quarter, the towering Soares gave them a 60-55 lead by sinking her third three-pointer. The meticulous game plan devised by the Westmont coaches did not take that into account, but no matter. They had the visitors where they wanted them — in a state of near exhaustion. The Warriors scored the next 14 points, opening up a double-digit lead on their way to a 76-67 victory.

“We’re built for the long haul,” Moore said. “Deep in games, fatigue doesn’t affect us.” Four Westmont starters — Iyree Jarrett, Tsuneishi, Ranger, and Berberabe — played the full 40 minutes, while Larson logged 36.

“We’re just a bunch of fighters,” said Ranger, the team’s only senior. “We’re the most prepared team in the nation. Hard things are thrown at us every day in practice. What you see on the court is a reflection of our coaches and how together we are off the court.”

The most telling statistic of Saturday’s game was turnovers. Westmont had three in the first half and zero — nada — in the second. Their relentless defensive activity forced The Master’s into 18 turnovers, giving the Warriors 15 extra possessions.

The 5′7″ Ranger registered a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds in her last home game. She hopes to extend her career deep into the NAIA National Women’s Championships at Billings, Montana. Westmont (27-3) figures to be one of the top seeds in the 32-team tournament after winning its fifth consecutive GSAC tournament title. The Warriors were upset in the first round of last year’s nationals, leaving what Moore called “a pretty sour taste in our mouth” that they are determined to wash away.

Westmont also is headed to the NAIA men’s nationals at Kansas City. The Warrior men (26-5), led by junior guard Abram Carrasco, the GSAC Player of the Year, won the regular-season title but lost to Arizona Christian in the conference tournament semifinals.

Amber Melgoza, Santa Barbara High’s all-time leading scorer, tallied 30 points in her final collegiate game as Washington lost to Utah in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament. The senior guard received all-conference honors for the third consecutive year after leading the Huskies in scoring (17.2 points per game) and assists (2.8). She was at her best in a 74-68 upset of No. 8 UCLA, posting 22 points, six rebounds, and five assists.

“She’s as competitive as any competitor I have ever been around,” Washington coach Jody Wynn told the Seattle Times. “You know, watching Amber play, you just don’t ever want that 40 minutes to ever end. It is like you could just sit and watch her drive and watch her competitive juices flow all day long.”

Mike Moropoulos’s license plates said it all: “SB DONS.” He was a huge part of Santa Barbara High athletics for 35 years as a coach and administrator. Moropoulos died on February 16 at almost 90. A ceremony honoring his life will take place at Peabody Stadium — finally near the end of its reconstruction — on Friday, June 12, at 7 p.m.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.