Men's Basketball -
Men's Basketball

Page 2 from the Tournament: Top Seeds Hold Court


Beach Back in Familiar Postion

It was close and it wasn’t pretty, but in the final minutes of the game, No. 3 Long Beach pulled away from No. 6 UC Riverside for an 82-74 win in final quarterfinal game of the Big West Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament on Thursday at Honda Center. 


It was a battle of the three ball until Long Beach State was able to work play more of an inside-out game in the second half. Neither team could get ahold of the game until finally, Long Beach went on 13-2 run over the final 3:41 to close the door on the Highlanders.


49ERS WITH THE FINISHBeach survives and advances to the semis.

Posted by Big West Conference on Thursday, March 10, 2016
They do a really good job of disrupting you and they had our guys frustrated like they always do,” Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said. “We got frustrated offensively, which broke down our defense, and then we got frustrated with our defense at the end of the game. But our guys are resilient and have had some good runs at the end of games and we were fortunate to have one again today so we could survive and move on."

The Beach (19-13) moves on to the semifinals for the seventh time since 2009, where No. 2 UC Irvine awaits. The 49ers haven’t made it to the Championship game since 2012, when they defeated UC Santa Barbara to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. 


It’s the second time in since 2009 that the top four seeds all advanced to the semifinals. 


Long Beach’s bench came up big with Travis Hammonds, the Big West Sixth Man of the Year, leading the way with 13 points and eight rebounds. Point guard Justin Bibbins scored 15 points and went 10-for-11 at the line. But senior guard Nick Faust was the star, scoring 21 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in an array of highlight-reel plays. 


Faust’s high-risk/high-reward style of play might make frustrate his coaches at times but Faust is never one to back down to pressure. 


“The thing I’ve always said about nick is you’ve got to give him some freedom because his good plays outweigh the bad ones,” Monson said. “He was pretty much in my lap in one that I didn’t like at the end, but he’s aggressive. And you don’t want to take that aggressiveness away. A lot of teams lose games at this time of year because they’re afraid to make a mistake.”


There’s not much that Faust is afraid of, including The Beach’s next opponent. The Anteaters swept the season series and the second game was a second-half disaster for the 49ers. UC Irvine scored 48 points on 79.2 percent shooting in the second half in Irvine. 


But the slate is now clean, The Beach says. 


“It’s a new game,” Bibbins said. “We can’t even look back on giving up 90. It’s 0-0 when we start the game. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board.”


Unsurprisingly, Faust was far more confident. A big-game player, Faust says the pressure is bringing out the best in all of the 49ers. 


“We lost to them and it’s 0-2, but as of tomorrow it’s 0-0,” Faust said. “When you step on that floor you’re facing a whole new Long Beach, baby. It’s tournament time. Come on now.”


UC Riverside (14-19) was plagued by inconsistent play, much how the Highlanders have been all season. Jaylen Bland led a balanced offense with a game-high 22 points, but late mistakes - like calling a timeout when there wasn’t one left - didn’t help their cause.


It wasn’t the season the Highlanders expected, but head coach Dennis Cutts said some adversity might serve them well. 


“Personally i don’t like adversity too much,” Cutts joked. “I really looked at it like we wanted to move the team forward but we stabilized it. We had 14 wins again, and now it’s really time to move it forward and I think we’ve got the pieces to do it.”




A new attendance record was set for the first day of play. The quarterfinal round drew 4,246 fans to Honda Center, bettering the previous record of 3,971 set in 2012.

Nelson, 'Eaters, Start Title Defense with Flair


While Mamadou Ndiaye might be the biggest weapon for UC Irvine size-wise, Luke Nelson was the most dangerous for the second-seeded Anteaters in an 84-64 win against No. 7 Cal Poly in a Big West Men’s Basketball Championship quarterfinal game on Thursday at Honda Center.



Big West Tournament , 2016Cal Poly vs UC Irvine Big West Tournament at Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. Photo by Matt Brown

Posted by Big West Conference on Thursday, March 10, 2016

In need of an edge against a scrappy Cal Poly team, Nelson helped the Anteaters take control with a career-high 36-point performance. Nelson shattered his own career best mark of 29 and was one point shy of matching the Big West Tournament single-game scoring record, set by Cal State Fullerton’s Josh Akognon in 2009. 


“The first thing I told him walking down the hallway was, ‘Why couldn’t you get 37?’” UC Irvine point guard Alex Young joked. “He steps up in big-time games and tonight, we really needed him. Having a guy like this makes my job easier because when he’s hot like that I’m going to keep giving him the ball.” 


Nelson stayed poised even after an altercation in the second half that saw Mamadou Ndiaye ejected for leaving the bench. His finesse defense also helped the Anteaters get key stops in the second half, allowing them the get the ball out offensively and put separation between them and the Mustangs. 


“I didn’t realize he had 36 but it felt like anytime he rose to shoot, it was going to go in,” UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner said. “That’s pretty special, but I also thought that he did a good job on the defensive end. That will go overlooked with a 36-point effort, but that’s pretty important.” 


The Mustangs, who won the tournament as a the seven seed in 2014, limited the impact of everyone but Nelson with their frustrating half-court defense in the first half. Offensively, they lived by the three. Earlier this week, head coach Joe Callero said their 2-3 zone was so effective at bottling up the paint that the Mustangs would be forced to play most of their game out on the perimeter. 


They hit nine three pointers, including four in a row at one point, ending the half down by just two points, 38-36.


“They made nine threes against a defense that was designed to prevent that,” Turner said. “I don’t think they would have stopped at the rate they were making them if we hadn’t had something to do with it. We played a lot more man to man defense in the second half.” 


But while they lived by the three in the first half, they died by it in the second with the defense switched.


“It was a good old fashion shootout,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “We didn’t get enough in the bank. The way we shot the ball it could have been a 6-8 point lead and then coming out in the second half with them hitting their first three or four shots gave them that confidence that gave us a little bit of pressure and we started forcing it."


With UC Irvine up 56-45 and 13:30 left to play, tensions grew tenser even as Irvine’s lead grew. A hard foul by Cal Poly’s Reese Morgan on UC Irvine’s Jonathan Galloway sent Galloway tumbling into the cheerleaders and the two teams rushing toward one another. Ndiaye made the crucial mistake of leaving the bench during and was ejected. 


The two teams had to be separated and sent to either ends of the floor as the officials analyzed the replays to sort out the rest of the penalties. 


“I’m not upset with him at all, but I don’t think what he did warranted an ejection,” Turner said. “I don’t think it was the wrong call, but i haven’t seen the replay.” 


Ndiaye did not make any contact with a player, so under Rule 10 - Section 4 - Article 2 he is not subject to any subsequent suspension and will be allowed to play in UC Irvine’s semifinal game Friday. It’s the third-straight year the ‘Eaters (25-8) have advanced to the semifinals. 


“He played 16 minutes so he’ll be fresh tomorrow after his ice bath,” Turner said. 


Cal Poly is going through a sort of transitional phase. After going to the NCAA Tournament two years ago, they started recruiting a different type of player. Under Callero, the calling card has been bleed-the-clock half-court defense, but he’s been promising a more efficient and faster offense. Some of that personnel is in place, but the veterans on the team weren’t recruited for that style and didn’t win with that style, either. 


The two styles of play have clashed at times this season, leading to a sort of identity crisis.


“We are committed to pushing the ball,” Callero said. “I think this year was a transitional year from an old guard that set the bar at Cal Poly playing one way, to moving to be a better spaced team.”

Milestone Highlights Rainbow Warriors' Opening Run

The unthinkable looked thinkable at the end of the first half of Thursday’s quarterfinal game when No. 8 seed Cal State Fullerton was threatening to knock off No. 1 seed Hawaii in a Big West Men’s Basketball Championship quarterfinal game. 

The Titans made a push in late in the first half closing out on a 13-6 run, highlighted by Jamar Akoh’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the half down only one. But ultimately, it proved to be the wakeup call the top-seeded Rainbow Warriors needed to power through to a 75-44 win.

“I was pleased with the performance, particularly in the second half,” Hawaii head coach Eran Ganot said. “I thought in the first half we had some turnovers but we were defending and we were rebounding well and I thought that would serve us well in the second half.”

After Aaron Valdes’ dunk put Hawaii up 27-21, Taylor called a timeout with 23 seconds left to play in the first half. The Titans responded with a jumper by Khalil Ahmad and then capitalized on Mike Thomas’ turnover when Ahmad fed for Akoh on the wing.

“Tale of two halves,” Cal State Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor said. “Hawaii is the No. 1 seed for a reason. They took over the basketball game and showed why they’re one of the better teams in the country.”

Taylor was hoping the Akoh’s big shot would give the Titans (10-20) some momentum coming into the second half. But they immediately allowed a run by Hawaii and failed to find their own offensive footing. Fullerton turned the ball over nine times and shot just 24 percent from the field in the second half. 

“Any time you turn the ball over against Hawaii they make you pay,” Taylor said. “I thought that was a huge, huge part. Our inability to take care of the basketball led to some futile possessions in the second half.” 

Stefan Jankovic, who sat most of the first period in foul trouble, exposed them inside and capitalized on their lack of size. Jakovic finished with 12 points, as did Mike Thomas, who also added in 12 rebounds. Aaron Valdes led with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists while Roderick Bobbitt scored 14. 

“The first half didn’t got the way we wanted to, but we stuck with it and did what we needed to do on the defensive end and stayed aggressive,” Bobbitt said. “We played our defense that we’ve played all year.”

With the win, Ganot became the winningest rookie head coach in Big West history.

The 'Bows (25-5) move on to play No. 4 UC Santa Barbara on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Best Laid Plans Fall to Gauchos

The Aggies had a plan. 


Neal Monson, the 6-foot-10 UC Davis center and the Big West Conference’s leading rebounder never made the trip to Anaheim with the fifth-seeded Aggies for the Big West Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament. His wife, Mimi, was about to give birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Scarlett, back in Davis, and went into labor shortly before the team departed. 



The due date was March 10, the same day the tournament began. 

There was a ticket waiting in his name from Sacramento International to John Wayne in Costa Mesa, and on Thursday morning, Monson’s name was in the starting lineup for the Aggies’ noon tilt against No. 4 UC Santa Barbara and everyone assumed he had made it in time, just like he had planned. 



But head coach Jim Les and his staff made contingency plans, because as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men tend to go awry.




Monson was not on the bench. Head coach Jim Les didn’t know if Mimi had given birth yet, but he did know that for whatever reason, things didn’t go according plan.




His presence was missed, as the Aggies were out-rebounded 38-27 in an 87-61 loss to the Gauchos, Thursday at Honda Center. Nothing went according plan for Monson or his teammates. 



“It does effect a team when you lose your starting center and your leading rebounder,” UCSB head coach Bob Williams said. “Wrong time for them but maybe the right time for us.”



The Gauchos jumped out to a lead they would never relinquish early in the game, used a 15-3 run to close the first half up 42-23 and shot 55.2 percent in the second half to earn their ninth straight win and a trip to the semifinal round for the second straight year. 

While the Aggies (11-19) showed a hesitancy to shoot the ball and passed it around one too many times looking for the perfect the setup, there was no hesitancy from UCSB’s Michael Bryson or Gabe Vincent. Bryson, a senior guard, went 4-for-4 from three in the first half before finishing with 24 points. Vincent scored 13 in the second half to finish with 20. 

“I appreciated how Michael and Gabe shared the load,” Bob Williams joked. “One took the first half and one took the second half. Great teamwork like that.”

Bryson has had success in this building before, especially from three-point range.

“I love this arena,” Bryson said. “Obviously we’ve had some hardships here but I love it, there’s good lighting, the rims look real good and the nets look good.”

UC Davis failed to disrupt Santa Barbara’s offense.

“We were trying to mix it up, play some zone and mix up some man coverages and break their rhythm,” Les said. “But thats a vet group and they responded and made adjustments to each one of our adjustments.” 

Of course, the blame can’t be placed on Monson. The Aggies only shot 32.1 percent from the field in the first half and turned the ball over 11 times. The Gauchos scored 20 points off those turnovers. 

“We’re not going to sit up here and make any excuses,” Les said. “I love Neal, so I feel bad that he didn’t get a chance to play in his last game this season, but more importantly was the birth of his first child and being with his wife, Mimi.”

Monson has one year of eligibility remaining but has not yet made a decision as to whether or not he will return. He graduates this year and plans to pursue law school. 

Siler Schneider’s three late in the second half broke UC Davis’ freshman scoring record. Schneider amassed 284 points in his first year as an Aggie, the most in the program’s Division I era.

The Gauchos (18-12) will face No. 1 Hawaii on Friday at 6:30 p.m.