No. 4 UC Riverside Earns First NCAA Berth With Nail-Biter Finish Against No. 1 UC Santa Barbara
UC Riverside's Amber Cox (left) and Kemie Nkele celebrate the Highlanders first trip to the NCAA Tournament. Photo by Matt A. Brown.
UC Riverside freshman Amber Cox hit a three-pointer with just over a minute remaining and the Highlanders watched as a running lay-up by UC Santa Barbara's Jessica Wilson, with two seconds left, rattled out as UCR clinched its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth with a 59-58 upset victory over the top-seeded Gauchos on Saturday afternoon in the championship game of the Big West Conference Tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The Highlanders improved to 16-14 overall, winning their last nine straight, and will await the decision of the NCAA Women�s Basketball Tournament Committee as to their first round opponent in next week�s NCAA field of 64. The Women�s Selection Show will be aired on Monday, March 13 at 7:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN.
The loss ended the Gauchos' string of nine-straight Big West Conference Tournament titles and 26 consecutive wins in the tournament. UCSB ended the season 16-13 overall.
Cox scored 12 points for UCR and was one of four Highlanders in double figures, led by Vanessa Campillo�s 15 points off the bench. Tournament Most Valuable Player Kemie Nkele finished with 13 points and Seyram Gbewonyo, an all-tournament selection, added 11.
Wilson, who was named to the all-tournament team, finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Gauchos and was joined by fellow all-tournament selection Jenna Green, who also had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman LaShay Fears added 10 points in the loss.
Playing without Nkele for the final 7:25 after she drew her fifth personal foul, the Highlanders never wavered, taking a three-point lead on a three-pointer by Gbewonyo and batting back from a three-point deficit to take another lead on a lay-up by Roney Friend and a three-pointer by Campillo with 4:19 remaining.
UCSB tied the game once again on a pair of free throws by Kat Suderman and took the lead on a jumper by Autumn Nicholls, with 3:07 remaining in the contest.
Gbewonyo hit 1-of-2 from the free throw line to bring the Highlanders to within a single point before Cox took center stage. She released and found herself open at the top of the key, taking a pass from Gbewonyo and hitting her third three-pointer of the contest to give UC Riverside the 59-57 advantage with 1:05 left to play.
Green had a chance to tie the game once again with a pair of free throws with :33 remaining, but missed the second shot from the line to make it a one-point game at 59-58.
With fouls left to give, UC Santa Barbara committed three straight, sending Gbewonyo to the line with :12 left, but she missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Gauchos new life.
Wilson took the ball at the right elbow and drove the lane, but her running floater with two seconds left on the clock rattled in an out into the hands of UC Riverside, which wrestled the ball out of the pack as time expired to clinch the victory.
A 7-2 run in the first half gave the Gauchos their largest lead of the period at 19-12 with 9:33 remaining, but the Highlanders battled back, rallying behind a pair of three-pointers from Nkele and Gbewonyo to pull within a point and, after trading baskets, take their first lead of the game since early in the half on a lay-in by Nkele to go up 24-23, capping a 12-4 run with 5:29 remaining.
UC Riverside kept the pressure, forcing UCSB�s Green into her third foul of the half with just over two minutes remaining and outscoring the Gauchos 5-1 down the stretch capped off by a three-pointer from the corner with time winding down by Campillo to head into the lockerroom up by four at 32-28.
The Highlanders shot just under 47 percent from the floor to the Gauchos� 36 and hit 53 percent from three-point range � including 6-of-8 in the second half. UC Santa Barbara outrebounded UC Riverside, 41-30, including 14-4 on the offensive end.
2006 BIG WEST CONFERENCE ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Most Valuable Player
Kemie Nkele, UC Riverside
Crystal McCutcheon, Long Beach State
LaJoyce King, Cal State Northridge
Jessica Wilson, UC Santa Barbara
Jenna Green, UC Santa Barbara
Seyram Gbewonyo, UC Riverside