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NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Gauchos Move On

UC Santa Barbara women stun third-seeded Houston, 56-52, to reach the round of 16 for the first time in school history.

March 23, 2004|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

GOLETA, Calif. — The NCAA basketball tournament can be either a once-in-a-lifetime thrill or a cruel joke. A team rises up unexpectedly and goes further than thought possible. Or a team gets stuck in a rut of never getting where it wants to be.

UC Santa Barbara no longer fits the latter description after upsetting third-seeded Houston in the second round of the East Regional on Monday, 56-52, in front of 4,061 at the Thunderdome, to reach the round of 16 for the first time in school history.

The Gauchos (27-6), who got 20 points and 10 rebounds from Lindsay Taylor and 17 points from Kristen Mann, are only the seventh 11th-seeded team to reach the Sweet 16 since the NCAA women's tournament began in 1982. They will advance to a regional semifinal Saturday at Hartford, Conn., against the winner of today's Connecticut-Auburn game.

"This means a lot to us on a lot of different fronts, and certainly to beat a very, very good Houston team is a big part of that," Gaucho Coach Mark French said.

"I'm pleased not only for our team, but for our community and athletic department for putting us in the position where we could do something that all of us could dream about, in my case for more years than I want to remember."

Houston (28-4), which had a game-high 24 points from Chandi Jones, concluded the best season in school history.

This was the third consecutive season that Santa Barbara reached the second round. And Monday was the third consecutive time the Gauchos had to get past a Texas team to reach the Sweet 16. Last year, they lost to Texas Tech, the year before to Texas. Both games were in the Lone Star State. This time the Gauchos were at home, where they had won 11 consecutive games and 38 of their last 39.

Make that 39 of 40.

For 16 minutes of the first half, both teams battled nerves and adrenaline, trying to find a steady rhythm. It wasn't until Mann drilled a couple of three-point shots that Santa Barbara appeared to relax. An 11-4 run in the final 5:29 of the first half gave the Gauchos a 24-20 lead at halftime.

In the second half, Santa Barbara took its biggest lead, 30-20. Houston responded with a 13-3 run, in part because Sancho Lyttle, who finished with 15 points, awakened on offense.

The game went back and forth until Mann netted a 12-footer with 1:19 left to play to give Santa Barbara a 53-50 lead it didn't relinquish.

"I felt they were going in, but I came up short tonight," Jones said. "I guess it wasn't my night."

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