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College Basketball

'Another fun ride'

Santa Barbara wins third straight Big West title

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Posted: Saturday March 06, 1999 09:22 PM

  Three-peat: UC Santa Barbara players and fans celebrate their Big West championship title -- their third in three years. AP Contrib

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Having gone through this before, UC Santa Barbara coach Mark French knew just how to start his postgame news conference.

"Smile and thank our great players for another fun ride in the Big West," French said. "This Gauchos team has accomplished something that's all theirs now."

Getting 24 points from tournament MVP Erin Buescher and 22 from Kristi Rohr, Santa Barbara routed Long Beach State 94-67 Saturday to win its third straight Big West title and an automatic NCAA tournament berth.

The Gauchos, who have five Big West tournament championships in the last seven years, advanced to the second round of the NCAAs last year, defeating Vanderbilt before losing to Illinois.

Buescher said the Gauchos are determined to do even better this time and their latest victory was a step in that direction.

"We've been working on the things we need to work on to get where we want to go. We have our goals set pretty high. We're excited," Buescher said afterward, still outfitted in the Big West championship T-shirt she and her teammates donned for their post-game celebration.

"We're ready to go and I guess it's a good time to be ready," Buescher said.

Stacy Clinesmith added 15 points and Rachelle Rogers 12 for the Gauchos (26-3), who extended their school-record winning streak to 21. It was their 12th in a row over Long Beach State and 33rd straight against Big West competition.

Kesha Wade scored 15 points and Rhonda Smith had 12 for Long Beach State (18-11), which lost its last regular season meeting with Santa Barbara 92-85, the Gauchos' closest game in the conference portion of their schedule.

It was a different story Saturday.

"It was a frustrating game," Long Beach State coach Dallas Boychuk said. "We can play better than that. We haven't played that way in a while. We talked about the defensive pressure they put on the ball but we did get a little flustered and they capitalized. They're a good team. You can't let them jump ahead of you like that."

Rediscovering the Big West's top-scoring offense after struggling somewhat in its first two tournament wins, Santa Barbara used its transition game to counter Long Beach State's bruising, physical style.

"We were focused on playing well for 40 minutes, and obviously getting off to a great start was a plus," French said. "I was very pleased with our effort. This group has been telling me they'd pick it up when we need to pick it up."

Buescher set the tone, hitting a 3-pointer from the corner 26 seconds into the game and the Gauchos were off and running.

Rogers made two 3-pointers and Rohr had eight points off driving layups in Santa Barbara's 28-10 opening burst that Buescher capped with her second 3-pointer.

Long Beach State's frustrations with the Gauchos' fast break became evident when Chelsea Cooper twice drew flagrant foul calls for deliberately dragging down Sheila Frial, who made all four free throws.

Clinesmith's 3-pointer following the second foul put Santa Barbara up 45-22. The 49ers, held to 36 percent shooting in the opening period, outscored the Gauchos 12-4 over the next five minutes, pulling to 49-34 at halftime.

Long Beach State began the second half with a 7-2 spurt, cutting the deficit to 51-41 on Crytsal Hogan's 3-pointer but the Gauchos regained control, scoring the next 11 points as the lead ballooned to 60-41 with 16:08 left.

The 49ers made one more push with a 6-0 burst that pulled Long Beach State to 64-49. But Buescher then converted a three-point play, starting a 16-5 run that overwhelemed the 49ers while pushing Santa Barbara's lead to 26 points with 8:40 left.

 
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