History was made Friday afternoon at the Honda Center as No. 6 UC Santa Barbara and No. 7 Long Beach State claimed semifinal victories in the 2012 Big West Women's Basketball Tournament. It will mark just the second time a seed lower than five has played for the title and the first time in Tournament history that the women's champion will be lower than a four-seed. Tip-off for the championship tilt is 2:00 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Prime Ticket.
Reserves Key No. 6 UC Santa Barbara To Semifinal Victory over No. 5 Pacific
UC Santa Barbara reserves Melissa Zornig (23 points) and Nicole Nesbit (20) both notched career-scoring highs Friday afternoon helping the Gauchos punch their 15th ticket in that last 21 years to the Big West Conference Women’s Basketball Championship game with an 84-66 win over the Pacific Tigers. The fifth-seeded Gauchos are 13-2 in title games including 4-0 against their opponent Long Beach State
Neither team led by more than five points through most of the first half, and the sixth-seeded Tigers led 15-13 with 8:40 to go in the period. That’s when Nesbit, the conference’s sixth player of the year, and Zornig began to take over as they scored 18 of the Gauchos final 24 points in the period. Included in that stretch was an 11-1 run that turned a tie ball game into a 10-point lead, 32-22.
The Gauchos took a 37-28 lead into the locker room behind 50.0 percent (16 of 32) shooting from the field. Zornig’s 12 points led all scorers at the break, while Nesbit added nine for UCSB. The Gauchos leading scorer on the season, Emile Johnson, had five points at the break, while Pacific’s Gena Johnson led the Tigers with eight.
Despite making just 32.1 percent (9 of 28) of their shots during the first period, Pacific was able to stay as close as it did by making 10 of 13 from the free throw line compared to one of two for UCSB.
The Tigers scored the first five points coming out of the break to cut the Gauchos advantage to four, 37-33, but that was as close as Pacific would get the rest of the way. UC Santa Barbara methodically pushed its lead back to nine with 12:01 on the clock, and to 12 with 9:27 remaining.
As they did in the first half, the Tigers stayed in the game at the free throw line going 14 of 18 in the second period. It was still just an eight-point game, 68-60, with 4:05 to go, but the Gauchos closed out the game by scoring 16 of the final 22 points to seal the victory.
Ultimately, Pacific was unable to find an answer for Nesbit and Zornig, as they continued to score at will combining for 22 points in the final 20 minutes of play on 9 of 12 shooting. Second-Team All-Big West performer Emile Johnson scored 15 points in the second half including 13 over the final 4:49, giving the Gauchos three 20-point scorers on the night
For good measure, the Gauchos other reserve who logged time in the game, Angelei Aguirre, made all four of her shots giving the UCSB second team a combined 22 of 31 from the field. That trio was the primary reason that the Gauchos shot 54.2 percent from the floor on the day.
Erica McKenzie paced the Tigers with 17 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field, but she misfired on six of seven from long range. She was joined in double figures by Pacific’s Johnson (15 points) and Kendall Rodriguez (12).
BOX SCORE QUOTES
No. 7 LBSU Upends Top-Seeded Cal Poly In Women's Big West Semifinal
Long Beach State’s dramatic postseason run continued Friday afternoon, as the No. 7 seed 49ers overcame their first-half offensive struggles and a 10-point, second-half deficit to beat No. 1 seed Cal Poly, 51-48, and advance to their first Big West Conference Championship game since 2001.
It was the second double-digit comeback for the Beach in this year’s Big West Tournament as they erased a 19-point deficit at No. 2 seed Cal State Northridge on Tuesday evening.
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half with Cal Poly leading at the break 19-13. The Mustangs Kristina Santiago, who led the conference in scoring this season at a 23.4 points per game clip, was held to seven points in the first half on two of six shooting from the field. She was the only member of the Mustangs with more than one field goal in the period as the rest of the squad combined to go three for 18 from the floor.
Meanwhile, Long Beach State’s Devin Hudson and Hallie Meneses combined to shoot 5 of 10 from the floor for 12 points, but the rest of the team misfired on all 17 of its field goal attempts. Overall in the period, Cal Poly made 20.8 percent of its field goals, and Long Beach made 18.5 percent.
Both teams shook off their offensive jitters in the second period, with Long Beach State connecting on five of its first eight shots after the break, and Cal Poly making six of 11 shots in the first six-plus minutes of the half.
The Mustangs’ lead vacillated between five and 10 points during that stretch, until the Beach put together a 9-0 run that brought them to within one, 34-33, with 11:07 left on the clock. Santiago put an end to the streak, with a jumper in the lane, but a few possession later, the 49ers pieced together a 12-3 run capped off by a pair of Lauren Spargo three-pointers to go up six, 45-39, with 5:38 to go.
Once again, Santiago put an end to the run, this time with a free throw, and Christine Martin’s back-to-back threes put the Mustangs back on top, 46-45.
The 49ers leading scorer on the year, Tipsea Moorer, who was held to one point in the first half, gave Long Beach State the lead once again on a lay up with 1:24 to go. Santiago drew a foul on Cal Poly’s next possession, but missed both free throws. Meneses made her pay with 29 seconds remaining converting on a jumper that put the Beach up three, 49-46.
The Mustangs Christine Martin missed a three-pointer with 20 seconds to go, but Santiago grabbed the rebound and Cal Poly called a time out. Ashlee Burns was fouled with 14 seconds on the clock, and she missed both free throws as well. Santiago grabbed the board on the second misfire, and her subsequent lay up cut the lead to one, 49-48.
Cal Poly fouled on the inbounds pass sending Meneses to the charity stripe, and she missed the front end of the one-and-one, but Chantel Dooley grabbed the offensive board. She was subsequently fouled, and drained both free throws putting the 49ers up three, 51-48.
Burns misfired on a three-pointer as the clock wound down, and Long Beach State celebrated its second upset of the tournament, and its 11th trip to the championship game where they are 4-6 all-time.
The 49ers offense in the second half proved to be the difference as they made 50.0 percent (13 of 26) of their shots including six from long distance. They outscored the Mustangs 38-29 after the break, holding Cal Poly to 33.3 percent (11 of 33) shooting form the floor
Meneses scored 10 of her team-high 16 points in the final 20 minutes of play, and Hudson posted a 10-point, 10-rebound double double on the day. Santiago also recorded a double-double with a game-high 21 points and 12 boards.