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UC Santa Barbara rolls in second half to win Big West title

On its way to winning the Big West regular-season title, UC Santa Barbara lost just three conference games.

Two were to UC Irvine.

The Gauchos made sure there wasn’t a third loss, and in the process of winning 79-63 on Saturday night at Michelob Ultra Arena in Mandalay Bay, they won the conference tournament championship.

Top-seeded UC Santa Barbara (22-4) clinched the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, ending the program’s 10-year drought. The entire tournament will be played in Indiana.

Whether guard Ajare Sanni, who averaged 11.7 points entering this game, will be available is uncertain. He appeared to injure an ankle in the first half and didn’t return.

Second-seeded UC Irvine (18-9) was the defending tournament champion, having won in 2019. Last season’s tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Anteaters in some ways had the upper hand entering this game, winning the two regular-season meetings at home 75-56 and 73-69. And on Saturday, they were down only 31-30 at halftime, setting up a potentially tight game down the stretch.

That didn’t happen.

UC Santa Barbara quickly set the tone. Midway through the second half, the Gauchos pulled away with a 10-point run for a 59-44 lead.

Big West Player of the Year JaQuori McLaughlin led the Gauchos with 22 points, making 4-of-7 3-pointers. Miles Norris scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, and Amadou Sow had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

For UC Irvine, Collin Welp scored 22 points, and DJ Davis 11.

UC Davis 61, UC Irvine 42 — Cierra Hall scored 23 points and Evanne Turner 22 to lead the Aggies to their second consecutive Big West women’s tournament championship.

The teams were tied at 26 at halftime, but top-seeded UC Davis (14-2) took control in the second half against the No. 2 Anteaters (15-10), outscoring them 35-16, including 21-8 in the fourth quarter.

UC Davis won its fifth consecutive regular-season championship despite having 13 games canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions. Now the Aggies are headed to San Antonio, where the entire women’s NCAA Tournament will be played.

“We’ve been embracing the bubble wherever we are,” UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross said. “We were bubbled in Davis. We were bubbled in Vegas. We’re going to be excited to be bubbled in San Antonio.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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