UC Santa Barbara 69, Long Beach St. 64

Orlando Johnson led UC Santa Barbara out of an eight-year

drought and into the NCAA tournament.

The Big West Conference player of the year had 20 points, five

rebounds and four assists to lead UC Santa Barbara to a 69-64

victory over Long Beach State for the Big West Conference title

Saturday night.

“I go into every game looking to be the operator and get

everyone involved,” said Johnson, the conference’s leading scorer.

“This time, I really wanted to be aggressive. I know defenses will

try to focus on my ability to score, so they gave me some some

lanes to find open people. We were making shots, so it opened up

some easy driving lanes for myself.”

Johnson, who made 11 of 12 free throws, was selected the

tournament’s MVP.

“He’s got a football body and a basketball brain,” Santa

Barbara coach Bob Williams said. “He’s very unique in that sense.

He can hurt you inside and outside. He’s very physical and

definitely the most versatile sophomore we’ve ever had.”

James Nunnally added 19 points and six rebounds for the

top-seeded Gauchos (20-9), who used their ninth victory in 10 games

to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since

2002.

Jaime Serna contributed 11 points and six rebounds, while James

Powell set the school record for career 3-pointers with 218.

Casper Ware had 19 points and five steals for the third-seeded

49ers (17-16). T.J. Robinson added 15 points and eight rebounds,

while Greg Plater contributed 14 points, five assists and four

rebounds.

“These guys kept fighting and trying,” 49ers coach Dan Monson

said. “But this program needs to get to the point where we measure

ourselves by championships, not by competing. I didn’t come to Long

Beach State to finish second.”

Long Beach rallied from an 11-point deficit to take a 53-52 lead

with 5:10 to play. Ware scored seven consecutive points off three

of his own steals in 58 seconds.

“He’s a one-man press,” Williams said. “He’s dynamic in the

open court. I told him I think he’s the most disruptive defensive

thing in this league.”

But Johnson scored every point in an 8-4 spurt to put Santa

Barbara ahead 60-57 with 2:43 left.

After Ware’s two free throws narrowed Long Beach’s deficit to

63-61, the 49ers had three chances to tie it off two successive

Santa Barbara turnovers. But Ware’s 17-foot jumper fell out of

bounds with 1:18 to play, and Plater missed a 3-point shot with 30

seconds left. Robinson got fouled while trying to convert the

rebound but made only one of two free throws with 28.8 seconds to

go.

Powell made two foul shots to extend the margin to 65-62. Long

Beach had a chance to narrow the deficit, but Stephan Gilling

committed an offensive foul while driving the left baseline with

10.6 seconds left.

Powell then converted two more free throws to give Santa Barbara

a 67-62 lead with 8.6 seconds remaining.

“It hurts real bad,” Ware said of the loss. “No words can

describe how much it hurts.”