Checking In On… the Big West ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on January 28th, 2012
The Week That Was
- Long Beach State Halfway Home: UC Riverside’s David Chavarria was one made free throw away from handing the 49ers their first conference loss of the season on Thursday, with the game all tied up at 63 and two seconds left. Fortunately for Long Beach State, he missed, and the game went into overtime. Coach Dan Monson’s crew proceeded to take control of the extra period, propelling the 49ers to a 77-70 win and a sparkling 8-0 conference record halfway through the 16-game schedule. Thursday’s UCR game would have been a classic letdown game after Saturday’s impressive blowout of UC Santa Barbara on national television, but it’s clear that Long Beach State is determined to win out.
- Cal Poly Ties NCAA Record: The Mustangs made their first 11 three-pointers against Cal State Northridge on January 21, tying the all-time NCAA record for consecutive made threes. Cal Poly shut an incredible 71.4% on the night from long distance, going 15-21. Of course, they followed that up by shooting a paltry 3-29 the following game against Pacific (10.3%). The two nights added together equal 18-50, good for 36%, or their approximate season average.
- Big West Lands Slew of Midseason Transfers: Some of the future stars of the Big West officially enrolled for the spring semester recently, with Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton the big winners. Arizona State star and southern California native Keala King is transferring to Long Beach after averaging 13.7 points in 13 games with the Sun Devils this year. Rumored to have character issues since high school, it will be interesting to see if King can settle in to lead the new era of 49er basketball along with fellow transfers Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Edgar Garibay (Loyola Marymount). In addition, Cal State Fullerton pulled in yet another D-I transfer (they currently have eight on their roster) in UTEP’s Darius Nelson, a freshman who never played a game for Tim Floyd. While some D-I transfers have excelled as expected (Orlando Johnson comes to mind), others haven’t received as much playing time as anticipated (Nate Garth, Johnson’s teammate).
- Long Beach State (15-6, 8-0) – Long Beach State fans were able to let out a huge sigh of relief on Thursday against UCR during the aforementioned missed free throw from David Chavarria with the game on the line, as Long Beach went on to complete the first half of conference play at a perfect 8-0. What’s more impressive is that arguably their three toughest games in conference, on the road against Cal Poly, UCSB and UCR, will all go down in the books as wins. Their supposed biggest test coming into conference play against UCSB at the Thunderdome, a game televised nationally on ESPNU, turned out to be a laugher, as the 49ers ran away with a lopsided 71-48 win. The question going forward remains the same: can Long Beach’s heavily used starting group stay fresh and maintain enough energy to close the season strong? Edis Dervisevic being reinstated from his academic suspension helps as the 49ers look to keep their NCAA at-large chances alive.
- UC Santa Barbara (10-7, 5-2) – Despite the clunker of a game against Long Beach State, UCSB narrowly maintains their spot in second place in the power rankings. Jaime Serna still wasn’t 100 percent during that game, and both Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally had uncharacteristically cold shooting nights. Serna looks to be ready to go again with his most recent 9-10 shooting night against UC Davis, good for 18 points in just 23 minutes of play. In an equally important development, freshman Alan Williams continues to assert himself as a force to be reckoned with, putting up a double-double with five blocks against the Aggies.
- UC Riverside (10-10, 4-3) – In all honesty, a good argument could be made that UCR, Cal Poly, and CSF are all tied for third place in the current power rankings. However, UCR will get the nod this week for their near win against Long Beach State. The Highlanders owe their improved play to the efforts of Phil Martin, who is basically carrying the team on his back. He scored 31 of the team’s 70 points against the 49ers, including an impressive 12-20 night from the field. On the defensive end, B.J. Shearry deserves kudos for his shot-blocking ability. When the match-up is right, Shearry’s presence really alters the opponent’s entire offense. The senior forward had five blocks in UCR’s win against Cal Poly and seven more against Long Beach, but was relatively ineffective in their Jan. 18 loss at Cal State Fullerton.
- Cal Poly (12-9, 3-5) – To say that the Mustangs had an up-and-down last two weeks would be an understatement. They started strong against the 49ers to start out, never trailing in the first half and building up a 45-36 lead with about 17 minutes left to play. However, Long Beach went on a 29-6 run, eventually cruising to a nine-point victory. Then came the ridiculously hot shooting night and accompanying blowout against Cal State Northridge, followed by the ridiculously cold shooting night against Pacific, which resulted in an upset defeat. Now, Joe Callero’s squad sits at an uninspiring 3-5, good for seventh in the conference. However, don’t be surprised if Cal Poly goes on a run from here. Senior David Hanson is just too good for the Mustangs to slide any further.
- Cal State Fullerton (13-6, 5-2) – Make no mistake about it, the Titans are officially conference dark horses. When they’re rolling, they can beat just about anyone. On paper, they continue to look excellent, ranking in the top 25 in field goal percentage, and right around 30 in both points per game and rebounds per game. The Titans notched their first big conference win by beating UCR in Riverside, and then held serve against UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge, albeit with a victory that required a layup from Kwame Vaughn with four seconds left to play.
- Pacific (7-12, 3-4) – After choking at home against Cal State Bakersfield (note: the Roadrunners seem like they’re on a personal vendetta against Big West teams this season, perhaps as an act of vengeance after getting snubbed from joining the conference), the Tigers continued their upward trend by soundly defeating UC Davis and upsetting Cal Poly by ten. Markus Duran had the hot hand against Cal Poly, scoring 14 points with the last three coming on a dramatic 3-pointer that resulted in the junior guard hurting his ankle. Although he did not return, Pacific made enough free throws to hold on. Never count out a team coached by Bob Thomason.
- UC Irvine (7-13, 3-4) – UCI’s Jan. 21 loss to Cal State Fullerton was a tale of two halves, as the Titans started out with guns blazing, hitting nine of 14 from distance to build a 56-30 lead by halftime. In the second half, UCI staged a furious comeback, making 10 of 16 from long distance while tightening up on defense to crawl back to within six in the waning seconds. UCI’s strong play continued against Seattle, which featured the breakout game of freshman Will Davis II. The lanky 6’8” big man posted 21 points, ten rebounds and five blocks, good for his career high in both points and blocks. Previously pushed around by stronger opposing post players, it appears that Davis is finally being more aggressive and learning how to play to his strengths. Clearly, the freshmen in Irvine are maturing before our eyes, and worth watching as the season goes into the home stretch.
- Cal State Northridge (5-13, 2-6) – The Matadors continue to battle and fall short. An eight-point loss to UCSB on paper is closer than it actually was, while a 46-point dismantling at the hands of a red-hot Cal Poly team was pretty much as bad as it looks. A hard-fought, two-point loss at the hands of Cal State Fullerton is a step in the right direction, mostly thanks to the strong play of freshman Stephan Hicks. The redshirt freshman has a bright future in Northridge, as he continues to average about 16 points and seven rebounds a game. Unfortunately, Hicks needs a lot more help. The team’s collective .363 field goal percentage – good for 342nd in the nation – won’t win CSUN too many more games this year.
- UC Davis (1-18, 0-7) – There’s not much more to say about the Aggies, who are clearly the worst team in the conference. Still without a win against a D-I opponent and riding a 15-game losing streak, Davis is probably the worst Big West team in a long while. Coach Jim Les’ challenge now is keeping morale high enough so that players continue to improve for next season and don’t just throw in the towel.
- Long Beach State takes on a slate of upset-gunners in Cal State Fullerton, Northridge, and Pacific, while UCSB looks to regain momentum against the same three.
- UCR has a golden opportunity to pad their conference record against UCI, Pacific and UC Davis.
- Fullerton has the aforementioned big test stretch with games against Long Beach State, Cal Poly and UCSB.
- Cal Poly has the busiest stretch ahead, with games at Davis, Fullerton, Bakersfield, and at home against UCR.
Caught on Film
Cal Poly ties an NCAA record by making their first 11 three-pointers of the game: