ANAHEIM, Calif. -- For the first time since 1992, the Long Beach State women's basketball team has punched its ticket the NCAA Tournament after earning a 56-55 victory over UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night to win the Big West Conference Tournament. The Conference championship was a first for the Beach since 1991, when they beat Cal State Fullerton to win the title.
Second-seeded Long Beach State opened up an early lead on No. 4 seed UC Santa Barbara and despite having the Gauchos rally and come from behind, managed to pull out a one-point victory in the final seconds to win the championship in dramatic fashion.
"I am just overcome with emotion," Long Beach State head coach Jody Wynn said. "(Raven Benton and Anna Kim) and our other three seniors, this has been the only goal. They didn't care about points, individual accolades, all they wanted to do was hold up a trophy at the end of the season and go dancing."
And dancing they will. The Beach will find out their seed on Monday, March 13 at 4 p.m. (PT) during the NCAA Selection Show.
"This is why I came to Long Beach State," Wynn continued. "I wanted to bring back a championship to the Beach and my coaching colleagues have all been champions and I just felt like we weren't holding up our end of the bargain for a little while. I thought about our first team, and how we had to overcome a lot, and how we built it and people doubted us because we didn't have the height, but you can't measure heart. You can't measure toughness.
"I'm just really overcome with emotion because those five seniors wanted this more than anything individual. They are the most selfless group of people I've ever been around and they take all the coaching, the criticisms, the demand, and they've learned to coach themselves. I'm just really proud."
Long Beach State started the game off hot as it opened the championship on a 9-2 run. They shot 53.3 percent (8-for-15) from the field in the first quarter and limited the Gauchos to just 21.4 percent (3-for-14) in the frame. The Beach outscored the Gauchos 18-8 in the first 10 minutes and continued their hot shooting into the second quarter.
The Beach opened up a 16 point advantage in the second quarter as they shot a sizzling 60 percent (6-for-10) from the field to tally 33 points in the opening 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Long Beach State defense pressed UC Santa Barbara and limited the Gauchos to a total of 19 points in the first half as the Beach took a 33-19 lead into the locker room at halftime.
With the game looking to be a blow out, the Gauchos came out firing in the second half. The Beach led by as many as 19 points in the game, but saw that lead cut to seven (42-35) at the end of the third quarter.
The Gauchos put even more pressure on the Beach in the fourth quarter as they turned Long Beach State's lead into a two-point deficit (53-51) with 2:04 left in the game.
"That was a tremendous effort by UCSB in the second half," Wynn said. "Those kids didn't quit; they played so hard. I am proud to be part of this conference because seeing a team with that talent, and them not quitting, that's a great testament to the leadership and that program."
With the Gauchos in the driver's seat with just over two minutes left to play, Madison Montgomery hit a three to give the Beach back the lead with 1:45 remaining. From there, the Beach pushed their lead up to three after Raven Benton collected a steal which led to a Jewelyn Sawyer layup with just 1:03 left in the game.
UCSB's Drea Toler sunk the backend of a pair of free throws to make it a two-point game, then hit a subsequent free throw with just 11 seconds remaining to make it a one-point contest (56-55).
The Beach played solid defense for the final 11 seconds of the game and kept the Gauchos off the board to secure the victory and clinch the title.
Senior point guard Anna Kim was named MVP of the tournament after leading Long Beach State with 15 points, while adding four rebounds, three assists, and one steal. Joining Kim in double-figures were Montgomery (14 points) and Benton (12 points). Benton was also named to the All-Tournament Team after tallying 22 points the night before to bring her points total in the tournament to 34.
Sawyer led the Beach with eight rebounds, while adding four points, one assist and one steal.
Long Beach State will find out its opponent on Monday, March 13 during the NCAA Selection Show which will air at 4 p.m. on ESPNU.
Big West Conference All-Tournament Team
Channon Fluker, CSUN
Drea Toler, UC Santa Barbara
Sarah Porter, UC Santa Barbara
Drew Edelman, UC Santa Barbara
Raven Benton, Long Beach State
Anna Kim, Long Beach State (MVP)
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