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Gauchos again stop the 49ers

For the second consecutive season, they beat Long Beach State in the Big West tournament final.

March 12, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Long Beach State forward T.J. Robinson runs into UC Santa Barbara forward Jaime Serna with guard Troy Leaf defending during the Gauchos' 64-56 victory in the Big West Conference tournament championship game Saturday.
Long Beach State forward T.J. Robinson runs into UC Santa Barbara forward… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

UC Santa Barbara gets a do-over.

The Gauchos are headed back to the NCAA tournament after a 64-56 victory over Long Beach State at Honda Center on Saturday.

They were once again handed the Big West Conference tournament trophy after beating the 49ers in the title game for the second consecutive season.

Orlando Johnson took home the tournament most-valuable-player trophy to use as a bookend with the one he won last season.

One thing, Santa Barbara players claim, was different this season: the future. A year ago, as a No. 15-seeded team, the Gauchos lost to Ohio State, 68-51.

"Last year we went into the NCAA tournament just happy to be there," said Johnson, who scored 18 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. "This year, we know what to expect. We'll be ready. We have a chance to win a few games."

That giddiness was easy to come by after a dominating performance against the regular-season champions.

Santa Barbara (18-13) took control midway through the second half, when Johnson scored eight consecutive points during a 10-1 run for a 45-37 lead.

Johnson was a woeful two of eight in the first half but made six of 11 shots in the second half.

"At halftime coach said, 'Can you maybe make a few shots?'" Johnson said. "In the second half he kept telling me I was the best player out there and to take over."

Long Beach closed to 56-50 with two minutes left. With the shot clock running out, Santa Barbara's Jon Pastorek — who averages four points per game — buried a three-point shot.

"Role players are big in games like this," Coach Bob Williams said. "Jon Pastorek is a role player."

The entire Gauchos team seemed cast as role players for the tournament after finishing fifth in conference play.

"I don't think you could have found two people in our locker room, on campus or in Southern California who believed we could win this," Williams said.

This was scripted to be Long Beach's moment. The 49ers (22-11) won the regular-season title and came into the game with an 11-game winning streak.

"I think we wanted to win so badly that we could never relax and make shots," Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson said. "None of our five guys ever got comfortable where we could make a run."

Long Beach had a 47-39 rebounding advantage, including a 21-6 edge on the offensive end.

But the 6-foot-10 Pastorek, the 6-9 Jaime Serna and the 7-3 Greg Somogyi altered shots. Long Beach missed 26 shots in the paint, 19 of which were layups.

"I told them if they played defense and rebounded well we'd be OK," Monson said. "I didn't envision struggling that much offensively."

Casper Ware, the conference's player of the year, was five for 17 from the field. Larry Anderson, the team's second-leading scorer, was four for 12. Long Beach shot 29% and made only four of 17 three-pointers.

"We won this tournament with defense," Williams said.

And now?

"We're go play against anyone, anywhere and against anybody," Williams said. "We're just happy to be back in the NCAA tournament."

Again.

chris.foster@latimes.com

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