Jessica Wilson scored a team-high 16 points and led three teammates in double figures as top-seeded UCSB clinched its 12th Big West Conference Tournament title with a 74-59 victory over second-seeded UC Davis on Saturday in Anaheim.
The Gauchos improved to 23-7 overall with their fifth consecutive victory and won for the 19th time in their last 20 games to earn the league’s automatic berth into next week’s NCAA Tournament. UCSB will learn its first-round opponent when the field of 64 is announced live on ESPN at 4 p.m. Monday.
UC Davis (19-11) became only the second team in Big West history — and the first since Long Beach State in 1986 — to make the tournament championship game in the program’s first year in the conference. Davis will earn the Big West’s automatic berth in the 2008 Women’s NIT.
Wilson was named the Big West Conference Tournament MVP after hitting 7-of-15 from the field to go with seven rebounds and five assists to lead four UCSB starters in double figures. The senior guard also finished with a steal and a block in her final game in Anaheim.
“It’s my last year and I’ve been in this position for four years now,” Wilson said when asked about the pressure to win after coming up short the last two seasons. “I just stayed calm and had confidence throughout the game. The NCAA Tournament is the best place to be, so I wasn’t too high or too low coming into this game.”
After finishing with 15 points in Friday’s semifinal victory over Cal Poly, all-tournament team selection Sha’Rae Gibbons had another outstanding performance Saturday, finishing with 13 points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting. She had three rebounds and four assists.
The Gauchos’ third all-tournament team selection went to Whitney Warren, who scored a season high for the second day in a row. After failing to reach double figures all season, the conference’s defensive player of the year finished with 10 points against the Mustangs on Friday and topped that number with 12 against Davis. Warren was 5-of-7 from the field and finished with three rebounds in 27 minutes.
After averaging just three points in two games against the Aggies during the regular season, Kat Suderman was much involved Saturday, contributing 11 points in the victory.
Davis came out of the gates firing and Jessica Campbell scored the Aggies’ first six points to help her team build a 6-2 lead after the first 2:22. Heather Bates hit one of four Davis threes in the first 11 minutes of the game to give the Aggies a 24-14 advantage with 9:06 remaining in the opening period.
Trailing 31-24 with 4:40 left in the half, the Gauchos used a 14-0 run to erase the seven-point deficit and take a 38-34 lead into the locker room at the break. UCSB held Davis to just 1-for-6 from the field during that stretch, going scoreless until Genevieve Costello hit another triple just before the halftime buzzer.
“We wanted the tempo to be up-and-down,” head coach Mark French said. “We were talking about our defense because they were getting a lot of wide-open threes and penetrations. Gradually, as we picked up our defense, it allowed us to get out and run. I think the team felt we were attacking well, we just needed to tighten up and create situations were we could get out and run.”
Wilson and Warren combined for nine of the 14 points during what proved to be the game-changing run for UCSB. The Gauchos shot 45 percent in the first half, including 6-of-8 from behind the arc, 80 percent.
“They were knocking down some big threes and for us to go down and do the same thing was really big,” Gibbons said. “I think our ability to be aggressive despite them shooting really well in the first half was a huge plus for us.”
The Aggies shot 44 percent in the first half, knocking down 6-of-11 threes, 55 percent.
Davis rallied back with a brief spurt to start the second half, using an 8-4 run to pull even at 42-42 just under three minutes into the period. But the Gauchos’ offense found its stride and responded with a 17-2 run of their own. Chisa Ononiwu’s three-point play with 8:09 remaining gave UCSB its largest lead of the game to that point, 59-44, and they cruised from there.
The Aggies closed the deficit to single digits with an 8-2 run capped by a Campbell three-pointer, but that would be as close as Davis would come as UCSB hit 6-of-8 from the free-throw line in the final 3:30 to ice the game.
Campbell, who also earned a spot on the all-tournament team after averaging 18.0 points per game in two tournament games, netted a game-high 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting to lead the Aggies while Bates also finished in double figures with 11 points and a team-high five rebounds.
UCSB finished the game shooting 49 percent from the field (27-55) and held Davis to 42 percent (20-48). The Gauchos won comfortably despite losing the battle on the boards, 32-28. UCSB took excellent care of the basketball all afternoon, however, committing a season-low six turnovers, while forcing the Aggies into 18 miscues on the other end.
Joining Wilson, Gibbons, Warren and Campbell on the all-tournament team were Rebecca Tratter of Cal Poly and Brittany Waddell of UC Riverside.
Click here for Saturday’s box score.
Ryan Hall is UCSB‘s assistant media relations director.