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Long Beach State women’s basketball team marches on as Big West Champions

49ers make the NCAA Tournament for first time since 1992.

The women's basketball team earned their 5th Big West Conference Championship on Saturday at the Honda Center.

Grester Celis-Acosta, Staff Writer

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ANAHEIM — After leading by 19 points midway through the third quarter the Long Beach State women’s basketball team found itself in a game after squandering the lead in the fourth quarter.

But through all the joys and frustrations, the 49ers found themselves in a state of happiness after a jaw-dropping missed buzzer beater which capped the team’s 56-55 Big West Championship win over UC Santa Barbara Saturday at the Honda Center.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” senior Anna Kim said about LBSU’s lead disappearing. “We weren’t happy about the run, but we just told ourselves ‘Hey, we can’t panic, we just need to stop the bleeding and just stay composed.’”

Once the buzzer went off and the ball hit the rim, LBSU players and coaches rushed the court in excitement over the win.

Kim was one of those players, jumping for joy while holding a fist in the air and screaming her heart out.

“Thank God,” Kim said when she saw the Gauchos miss the game-winning shot. “Right when that buzzer went off, it hit short on the rim. I just ran to hug my teammates and I – just like Raven said –  was just full of joy. Just because you work so hard for this moment and it’s actually become a reality. It’s just unreal.”

After the game, 49er head coach Jody Wynn took a second to gather herself before she spoke, just moments after her players rushed the court in celebration after the buzzer sounded.

“Man we make things interesting, don’t we?” Wynn said. “[I’m] just overcome with emotions. The [seniors to the] left of me and the other three seniors, this has been their only goal. They didn’t care about points, they didn’t care about individual accolades, all they wanted to do was hold up a trophy at the end of season.”

Three out of the five seniors scored in double-digit points, with Kim scoring the game-high for LBSU at 15.

But none of the seniors’ points were more important than Madison Montgomery’s, as she dropped 10 points in the fourth, including two triples.

One of those threes came at the 1:45 mark in the fourth to take back the lead after the 49ers lost it to the Gauchos seconds before.

“We just [told her], ‘You know what Maddy? Kids come through down the stretch and played [where] they miss every shot and then they make a game winner,’” Wynn said. “‘Don’t hang your head.’”

Montgomery finished the game with 14 points.

The 49ers began the game red hot, shooting 53.3 percent from the field in the first quarter and quickly taking a 18-8 lead by the end of the first.

That strong offensive performance carried into the second quarter as the 49ers kept up their stellar shooting, which increased to 60 percent.

By halftime, LBSU had a commanding 33-19 lead.

In the third, the 49ers extended their advantage to 19 in the first 3:30 of the quarter. The 19-point lead was the largest of the night.

But, despite the 49ers’ hot start through the first 24 minutes of the game, UCSB fought back into the game as they outscored LBSU 16-9 in the quarter and came within seven points of the lead by the end.

The 49ers slowly but surely saw their lead shrink away and struggled to maintain it.

UCSB took hold of the lead at the 2:27 mark in the fourth thanks to a triple by sophomore Coco Miller; this marked the first lead for the Gauchos.

Frustration in final minutes crept up to the 49ers, but no minute was more anxiety-filled than the final one of the game.

The 49ers did not get a shot up, had a few turnovers and two fouls counted against them, which allowed the Gauchos to score two out of four free throws and come within a point.

The game took another turn when Kim dove for a deflected inbounds pass and called a timeout in the air before hitting the ground out-of-bounds in the final 10 seconds of the game.

The timeout call did not count because the referees ruled that a player cannot call a timeout in the air without securing possession of the ball inbounds.

That lost possession gave the Gauchos seven seconds left to score a basket and secure a championship victory.

But, like in the semifinals victory over CSUN, UCSB failed to drain a basket as sophomore Sarah Porter missed a game-winning triple, which had the arena gasp for air as it went up.

“I thought it would be a little short,” Gauchos head coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “But [Porter] got a good look at it… I’m disappointed in the outcome for them, but I am not disappointed in them.”

Afterwards, as the 49ers hoisted the trophy in the air, players began to dance on the court and chant “We got the Chip.”

Players and coaches also took turns cutting and taking pieces off the basketball net.

The most iconic moment of the night was when Wynn climbed the ladder with the support of her husband and assistant coach Derek Wynn. She then cut off the net from the rim and twirled it over her head for players and fans to see.

“I’m just really proud of the resolve that we’ve had throughout the year and fighting the adversity that we’ve [had],” Wynn said after the game. “[We] fought through injury and to be able to step up in the biggest stage of their young lives. I’m just really proud of their focus, their togetherness and… I’m really proud to be their coach.”

The 49ers will now head to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992, ending a 25-year drought. No current player on the roster was born when LBSU last attended, so it’s a whole new generation of players.  

The 2017 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship bracket will be on Monday at 4 p.m. on ESPN.

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