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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / BIG WEST TOURNAMENTS

Tournament Lacking a Clear-Cut Favorite

Women's basketball: In contrast to past seasons when UC Santa Barbara flexed its might, Big West is considered a wide-open affair.

March 07, 2001|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the first time in five seasons, there is no clear-cut favorite as the Big West Conference women's basketball tournament starts this afternoon at the Anaheim Convention Center.

UC Santa Barbara (19-8) faces Cal State Fullerton (1-26) in the first round at 6 p.m. If the Gauchos win the tournament, they will advance to the NCAA tournament for a fifth consecutive season.

This was a rebuilding season for the Gauchos, who had won 75 of 78 conference games before this season. They struggled after roster losses--expected and otherwise--and had to wait until the last week of the season before securing their sixth-consecutive Big West regular-season championship.

The Gauchos were forced to strike a balance with six players, each averaging between eight and 14 points a game, led by junior center Kayte Christensen.

Long Beach, which plays Idaho today, finished tied for second with Pacific on the strength of senior center Jackie Moore. She averaged 19 points to lead the conference. Moore scored 35 points in almost rallying Long Beach from a 17-point second-half deficit Saturday against Santa Barbara. The Gauchos won, 86-80.

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