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Shorthanded Gauchos Grind Out Victory

Ononiwu scores 19 to lead UCSB to 71-58 win over lowly Northridge.

Chisa Ononiwu scored 19 points to lead four players in double figures as UCSB pulled away from Cal State Northridge for a 71-58 win at the Thunderdome on Thursday. Margaret Johnson added a career-best 14 points and Ashlee Brown finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds in the victory.

The Gauchos, who have now won 16 of their last 17 games, improved to 20-7 overall, reaching the 20-win mark for the first time since the 2004-05 season. The Big West Conference regular season champs enter Saturday’s finale with a 14-1 league record.

“It’s always nice to win 20 games in a season, but the number we’re really after is 23 wins because that will put us in the NCAA Tournament,” head coach Mark French said. “I’m not sure the effort and preparation we showed tonight will get us there.”

With Kat Suderman and Jessica Wilson serving one-game suspensions for their role in an altercation last weekend at UC Riverside, UCSB struggled to get it going without its top two scorers and finished shooting a season-low 28 percent (19-68) from the field. Fortunately, the struggling Matadors (1-25, 0-15 Big West) weren’t much better, shooting just 29 percent (15-51).

One Gaucho who did shoot the ball well was Ononiwu, finishing four-of-eight from the field and 11-of-12 at the charity stripe in 28 minutes off the bench. She finished with 19 points — her highest total since scoring a season-high 20 in the loss to No. 3 Maryland back in November — and eight rebounds, also a high mark for the year.

Johnson has been playing extremely well since earning a starting spot against Cal Poly on Feb. 16 and she made four of her eight field-goal attempts on the way to a new career mark. The freshman added six rebounds against the Matadors.

Brown followed her career-high 22-point performance in the win over Riverside with another solid effort Thursday. Despite shooting just three-of-14, she recorded her second double-double in the last three games, finishing with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Brown also finished with a career-high four steals.

Sophomore Meagan Williams made her first start since Dec. 29 in place of Wilson and tallied 11 points, five rebounds and two steals.

UCSB shook off a sluggish start and an 8-3 deficit to take a 16-8 lead with 7:43 remaining in the first half. Ononiwu knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Gauchos a 22-13 cushion three minutes later, but the Matadors’ Ashley Blake hit a three-pointer from the wing to ignite a 12-3 CSUN spurt over the final 4:35 of the half.

UCSB quickly saw its nine-point lead erased and the two teams went into the locker room tied, 25-25.

The Gauchos scored the first seven points of the second half before the Matadors responded with eight of the next nine to pull even again, 33-33, with 16:23 remaining. But Brown and Ononiwu converted four-straight at the line and Lauren Pedersen hit a jumper to put UCSB back in front by six with 14:14 left to play.

UCSB led 43-40 two and a half minutes later before a Whitney Warren layup sparked what became a decisive 14-3 Gauchos run over the next five minutes. UCSB took a commanding 57-43 lead with 5:47 left to play.

Northridge was able to trim it deficit to just six following two free throws from Katie Holloway, but Ononiwu hit a jumper in transition and then sank two more at the line to extend the lead back to 10 with just over a minute remaining.

Holloway led all scorers with 29 points on seven-for-15 shooting and finished 15-of-21 at the stripe. She also finished with a game-high 14 rebounds and two blocks. Playing in her final game in the Thunderdome, the senior forward fouled out with 1:03 left to play and received a standing ovation from the UCSB faithful.

Even without its top two rebounders, UCSB controlled the glass, 54-44, and recorded a total of 28 offensive rebounds, leading to 20 second-chance points.

When it was all said and done, the game featured 49 fouls, 81 free throws and 45 turnovers.

The Gauchos will wrap up the regular season Saturday with a 2 p.m. game against Long Beach State, before heading to Anaheim for the Big West Tournament next week. Seniors Ononiwu and Wilson will be honored with a special ceremony before tip-off.

Ryan Hall is UCSB‘s assistant media relations director.

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