Pacific To Face UCSB In Big West Tourney Semifinal
Anaheim, Calif. – After a convincing quarterfinal win last Tuesday, the Pacific women's basketball team will look to continue its run to a Big West Tournament title against UC Santa Barbara in a semifinal game Friday, Mar. 9, at approximately 2:30 p.m. at the Honda Center.
Pacific was one of three road teams to earn wins on Tuesday, as sixth-seeded UC Santa Barbara defeated No. 3 UC Irvine, 61-51, while No. 7 Long Beach State edged two-seeded Cal State Northridge, 57-52. Only top-seeded Cal Poly held serve, routing No. 8 Cal State Fullerton, 71-53. Due to the reseeding that takes place after the quarterfinal round, the Tigers are the second-highest seed remaining in the tournament.
The Tigers never trailed against fourth-seeded UC Davis, cruising to a 59-51 victory at the Pavilion thanks in large part to a near-perfect defensive effort in the first half. The Aggies managed just six points in the first 12-plus minutes, connecting on just two of 12 field goals during its drought while committing 10 turnovers. Pacific led 26-13 at the half and would take its largest lead of the game, 42-25, with 13:04 left to play. UC Davis managed to cut the Tigers' advantage to six thanks to a pair of three-pointers late in the game, but Pacific drained four of its final six free throws to seal the win.
"Credit to UC Davis for a great season," head coach Lynne Roberts said. "We knew it was going to be tough, but I was really proud of our resiliency. We weathered a pretty fierce push by them and our players did not get rattled, hitting some key baskets when we needed them. It was a great win in a tough road environment."
A huge reason for Pacific's success has been the recent emergence of sophomore guard Gena Johnson. The Elk Grove native is averaging 16.4 points in her last five games while shooting 58-percent from the field. She has also taken 38 free throw attempts in the last five games, including nine in the Tigers' win over UC Davis on Tuesday.
Hot on the heels of her first All-Big West First Team honor, junior forward Kendall Rodriguez has put up double-doubles in her last two outings. She recorded 17 points and 12 rebounds in the Tigers' regular season finale against Cal Poly before tallying 12 points and 10 boards at UC Davis on Tuesday. Pacific is 5-2 when Rodriguez records a double-double.
For the first time since 1987, the Tigers swept the season series from UC Santa Barbara, winning a close contest on the road, 52-48, back on Jan. 28 before defeating the Gauchos in the Spanos Center, 60-40, on Mar. 1. The first game saw Pacific close with a 12-2 run, holding UCSB to just two points over the final 4:57. Both teams struggled from the field as neither shot over 39-percent, but the Tigers made four of their final five shots while the Gauchos hit just one field goal in the final four minutes, a lay-up with six seconds left. Junior guard Erica McKenzie scored a game-high 14 points while junior forward Kendall Rodriguez narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with nine points and 11 rebounds.
The second meeting was a different story as Pacific led 36-25 after the first half before going ahead by 13 with 16:28 remaining in the game. UC Santa Barbara would cut the Tigers' lead to nine, 40-31, with just over 15 minutes on the clock, but that would be the closest the Gauchos would get. Pacific held the visitors scoreless for the next 11-plus minutes, extending its lead to as many as 27 points before settling for the 20-point victory. The 40 points were the fewest allowed by the Tigers in the Lynne Roberts era. UCSB shot just 33.3-percent for the game as Pacific held its opposition to its second-lowest field goal percentage of the season. Sophomore guard Gena Johnson led all scorers with 17 points while McKenzie added 12 on four three-pointers.
"We're approaching this game as if its a new season," Roberts said. "UC Santa Barbara is a good team and we anticipate them to play very hard. They have some great seniors, and we're preparing for a hard-fought, physical game."
Despite finishing the regular season with a losing record for just the second time in the last 22 seasons, UC Santa Barbara played well down the stretch. The Gauchos won six of their final eight regular season games, five of which were decided by 10 or more points. Senior Emilie Johnson earned Second Team All-Big West honors after leading UCSB in scoring with 9.4 points per game. As a team, the Gauchos hold their opponents to an average of 51 points per game, best in the Big West by more than 10 points. Opponents shoot just 36-percent from the field and 30-percent from long range against UCSB, both tops in the league.