ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Seyram Gbewonyo saw an opportunity to put UC Riverside into the NCAA Tournament and took it.
Gbewonyo made a jumper with 17.6 seconds to play to give UC Riverside a 70-67 victory over UC Santa Barbara and the Big West Conference championship Saturday.
Gbewonyo finished with a season-high 23 points for the top-seeded Highlanders (21-10), who defended their tournament championship and head back to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season. Kemie Nkele, the conference player of the year, added 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. She was selected the tournament's MVP.
Jenna Green scored 21 points for the second-seeded Gauchos (17-13), who lost to Riverside in the tournament final for the second consecutive year. Chisa Ononiwu had 15 points.
"Santa Barbara gave us all we could handle," Riverside coach John Margaritis said. "We kind of snuck up in there the last few seconds and got the points. But I also thought we earned this victory because we worked exceptionally hard."
Santa Barbara, which led by eight points in the first half, forced a 67-67 tie on Jordan Franey's 3-point shot with 43 seconds to play.
Gbewonyo dribbled down the right side and pulled up for a 10-foot jumper that put the Highlanders ahead by two.
"They were forcing me baseline and I saw Kemie posting up," Gbewonyo said. "I was going to give [the ball] to her but when she emptied out. I saw an opportunity to shoot."
Ononiwu then missed a 3-point shot with 7 seconds left. Nkele grabbed the rebound after the ball was tipped, got fouled by Ononiwu and made a free throw with 4.2 seconds to go.
"I wanted to get the game-winner," Ononiwu said. "I was feeling pretty good about the shot. It felt good. It came out of my hand right. It just didn't roll in."
The Gauchos' LaShay Fears' wild 3-point attempt under intense defensive pressure sailed over the backboard as time expired.
Riverside shot 63.6 percent from 3-point range, the third-highest percentage in tournament history.