Steve Coulter of the Clarion is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.
Santa Barbara knocks off red hot CS Fullerton; takes conference lead
UC Santa Barbara won their fourth straight game Wednesday night when they defeated Fullerton 73-65. With the win the Gauchos (10-3, 15-8) maintain sole possession of first place in the Big West Conference going into the final two weeks of play. Santa Barbara moved into first place with their two-point win last Saturday against Long Beach State. Against the Titans, Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally each had 18 points, leading all scorers. Going into the game, the Titans had arguably been the conference’s hottest team, winning five of their last six and ascending into the third spot in the conference. The win gives the Gauchos their fourth straight win heading into a big road matchup today against Fresno State.
Pacific regains stride after losing conference lead, plays outstanding defense
Pacific beat both Long Beach State and Cal State Bakersfield this past week, surrendering a total of 96 points combined to both opponents. The Tigers (9-3, 17-8) remain only a half-game back of conference leader Santa Barbara. The Tigers lost their conference command when UC Davis upset them 62-59 on February 10. Julian Welch led the Aggies with 19 points and helped his team end a 49-game losing streak to Pacific that dated back from the 1940-41 season. The Tigers redeemed themselves by blowing out the Roadrunners on the 13th and silencing Long Beach State this past Wednesday. The 49ers (6-7, 12-14) came within two points of beating Santa Barbara on the road the previous weekend, but failed to compete at all with the Tigers, who shot 53 percent from the field in the game. Sophomore T.J Robinson, the 49ers’ leading scorer and rebounder, found himself in early foul trouble and played only 19 minutes. He finished with 11 points and a season low two rebounds, and as a result the 49ers were outrebounded 35 to 28 on Wednesday.
Anderson named player of the week; Fullerton outlasts Northridge in 3OT
Senior Gerald Anderson of CS Fullerton was named Big West Conference Player of the Week this week after he led the Titans to two road wins last week. After beating lowly UC Irvine 71-62 on February 10, the Titans took part in an epic contest against CS Northridge, which resulted in a 113-112 win in triple overtime. With the Titans down 112-110 late in the third overtime, Anderson intentionally missed his second free throw attempt in order for his teammates to grab a possible offensive rebound and score quickly to tie the game and force it into a fourth overtime. Eric Williams grabbed Anderson’s intentional miss and hit a bank shot while being fouled. Williams hit his free throw seconds later to propel the Titans to victory. All of this couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a magical performance from Anderson. After regulation, the forward had just seven points, but ended up finishing with a career-high 25 points when the game had concluded. In the third overtime with all five of the Titans leading scorers fouled out, Anderson scored 11 points, which helped the Titans squeeze out the thrilling win. The Titans and the Matadors combined for 225 points, 75 fouls, and 110 free throw attempts in a game that was definitely one of the most entertaining of the year. Anderson finished with seven rebounds, two blocks, and two steals against the Matadors, in addition to scoring 19 points and grabbing career-high 10 rebounds in the previous win over UC Irvine.
Cal Poly also has overtime heroics
With a slew of close games last Saturday, including Fullerton’s triple overtime win and UC Irvine’s two point win, Cal Poly’s double overtime victory over UC Riverside almost went under the radar. Sophomore David Hanson scored a career-high 26 points in the contest, but it was two clutch free throws from freshman Kyle Odister that made the difference. With the win the Mustangs snapped a five-game losing streak and propelled themselves into a tie amongst several teams in the Big West Conference standings. UC Riverside’s Kyle Austin also scored a career-high of 39 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the loss.
Conference standings to remain the same until next week
With every team in the conference playing a non-conference game over the weekend the Big West Conference standings will not change until conference play resumes next Wednesday when Santa Barbara takes on Northridge. Over the course of the weekend, all nine Big West teams take on non-conference tests either at home or on the road. Conference leader Santa Barbara travels to take on Fresno State, while Pacific hosts New Mexico State. Other games include Riverside vs. Youngstown State, Fullerton vs. SIU-Edwardsville, UC Davis vs. Boise State, Long Beach State vs. Idaho, UC Irvine vs. Marist, and Northridge vs. Drake. On Sunday, Cal Poly takes on Hawaii.
Top Tier: Santa Barbara (10-3), (15-8); Pacific (9-3), (17-8)
Like it has been for a majority of the season the race for conference top spot will come down to the Gauchos and the Tigers in the final two weeks of the season. The game that will perhaps make the difference is Pacific’s March 4th showdown against Fullerton, the team currently in third place. As for the Gauchos, after their non-conference duel with Fresno State, their schedule presents three of the Big West’s bottom teams—Northridge, Cal Poly, and UC Irvine. Something to note is that the Tigers have four conference games left on the schedule, while the Gauchos have only three. However, if the two teams finished with the same conference records then Santa Barbara will win the Big West Tournament’s top spot, because they have won both games against Pacific so far this season. The difference between both teams is easy to decipher, the Tigers have a balanced team with seven players averaging more than five points a game. On the other hand, the Gauchos pose the conference’s greatest tandem with Johnson and Nunnally, who at this point are both contenders for conference player of the year.
Middle of the Pack: CS Fullerton (7-6), (13-12); UC Davis (6-6), (10-15); Long Beach State (6-7), (12-14); Cal Poly (6-7), (9-16); CS Northridge (5-7), (10-16)
Despite their February success, the Titans remain in the middle of the pack and three games removed from Santa Barbara in the standings. The Titans are currently 0-3 against the conference heavyweights, but they one last chance to move up in the conference standings when they host Pacific on March 4th. Fullerton’s offense is a dangerous one; it contains five players who average more than 10 points a game. UC Davis remains the only other interesting team in this group. The Aggies do not have to face either Pacific or Santa Barbara in the final two weeks and are coming off an upset of the Tigers earlier this month. Although they have a terrible overall record, the Aggies are in a good position to claim one of the tops four seeds come conference tournament time. As for Long Beach State and Cal Poly, they are fighting an uphill battle that doesn’t look promising. Each team plays either Pacific or Santa Barbara in the following weeks in addition to taking on either Fullerton or UC Davis as well. As for CS Northridge, their season long quest to get out of the Big West cellar has been accomplished. Unfortunately for the Matadors, with upcoming games against both the Tigers and the Gauchos, they are bound to stay close to the bottom.
Bottom dwellers: UC Riverside (4-9), (10-15); UC Irvine (4-9), (11-16)
Despite having the conference’s best scorer and potential player of the year in Kyle Austin, Riverside is a lost cause. The Highlanders have three road games to finish out their regular season schedule, two of which are against the conference powerhouse. The only intriguing storyline here is who finishes in dead last. UC Irvine’s home game against Northridge on February 27 could prove to be the difference maker. As long as the Anteaters can get the combination of Michael Hunter and Eric Wise going then they should be able to avoid finishing dead last.