Page 2 from the Tournament: Different, But Same
Beach Embracing Role Reversal
Long Beach State was once a trendy mid-major, penciled in the bust brackets and break the hearts of the high-major fans. The Beach, with their catchy nickname and cool colors, had a target on their backs for years in the Big West Conference.
Even after the first crop of players that made them successful graduated, a slew of high-major transfers kept the 49ers relevant in the media and in the standings. But after making it to three-straight Big West Championship games and then finally winning it all in 2012, The Beach never really followed up when it counted.
Sure, they won regular season conference championships and maybe made a little noise in the Big West Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, but they failed to live up to their billing.
Until Friday, that is, when they weren’t billed as much and still managed to make a lot of noise in a 77-72 win against second-seeded UC Irvine in the semifinal round of the Big West Tournament, late Friday night at Honda Center.
The 49ers (20-13) had been swept in the regular season in two ugly contests. But they finally figured out how to work with Irvine’s 2-3 zone and took advantage at the line, shooting a season-high 82.4 percent at the line. Six 49ers scored in the double-digits, a feat The Beach hasn’t accomplished since 2007.
“After losing twice to those guys, I was really proud of our guys,” Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said. “You don’t win games like that without everyone doing a good job.”
Instead of backing down to the massive Anteater bigs in 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, 7-foot-2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos and 6-foot-10 Mike Best, the 49ers went right at them, putting them in early foul trouble, and complimenting that with a midrange game.
“I always tell them - they don’t always listen - but I say you’ve got to love the rim and like the three,” Monson said. “We’ve got to attack inside out. A.J. really did a good job of getting low and hitting the target and we didn’t have one turnover trying to get it in (the zone).”
Spencer scored 17 points, mostly on midrange jumpers, exposing a weakness in the zone.
“I thought Spencer had a terrific second half and made some key shots,” UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner said. “We haven’t been beaten often by teams who make those high post jump shots and he made a lot tonight.”
The UC Irvine (25-9) bigs still exploited Long Beach’s lack of size, as they typically do, out-rebounding the 49ers and scoring 32 points in the paint. Ndiaye had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Best had 12 pints and eight rebounds.
“You can’t go in against a skyscraper every single time,” Spencer said. “We got blocked a couple times at the end and we rebounded from that and made a couple plays.”
The third-seeded 49ers advanced to the championship game for the first time since 2012 and did so with a different outlook on the game than teams in the past.
“This is the sixth year of playing in this place and it’s the first time I’ve been in one of these locker rooms on this side,” Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said.
By “this side”, he means the side reserved for the teams who aren’t one of the top seeds. Take the target off of Long Beach’s back and you may have, what guard Nick Faust promised on Thursday night, “a whole new Long Beach, baby.”
“We’ve been a favorite and it’s different to be here when we’re hunting them. Last time we played them in here, we were the higher seed,” Monson said. “This team cares. When guys care, you can get better and they’ve really gotten better mentally in trusting each other”
While Long Beach isn’t the higher seed in the championship game - No. 1 Hawaii takes those honors - they might still have the fend off some hunting as The Beach beat the ‘Bows twice in the regular season.
The finale will take place at 8:30 p.m., on ESPN2. If Long Beach can play with this same level of mental toughness, the game could be even more competitive than this edition of the Black and Blue rivalry.
“That’s what makes these tournaments special,” Monson said. “Nothing we did a week or two ago is significant to tomorrow.”
Change No Big Deal for 'Bows
In the year since Hawai'i played in the Big West Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship game, they’ve made a head coaching change and lost key players. They were so sure that no one thought they’d be back in that same position, yet here they are a year later.
The top-seeded Rainbow Warriors withstood two strong pushed by No. 4 UC Santa Barbara in the semifinal round on Friday at Honda Center, advancing to the final round for the second year in a row with an 88-76 victory.
“We’re very appreciative of being in this position,” Hawai'i first year head coach Eran Ganot said. “Tonight was kind of indicative of the year. One guy went out, the next man came up.”
The ‘Bows lost Quincy Smith early in the game. It was initially thought to be some sort of stomach pains but Ganot later said it was a hip issue.
But Hawaii’s stars played like stars. Junior guard Aaron Valdes scored 19 points with 10 rebounds an seven assists, Stefan Jankovic had 24 points and seven boards while point guard Roderick Bobbitt had 21 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Bobbitt was instrumental in helping reclaim momentum after a Santa Barbara run in the first half.
“Rod hit a big three to close that up,” Ganot said. “For the second game in a row, he’s been imposing himself on the glass and putting us in this position.”
The Gauchos had a chance in the first half, going on 15-2 run in the final four minutes. Eric Childress keyed it with two steals a some fancy passing. Michael Bryson hit a three with 13 seconds left to tie the game at 34-all and Bobbitt hit one 10 seconds later to give Hawai'i a three-point lead going into halftime.
But after five straight points to start the second half, the Gauchos lost their composure and Hawai'i went on a 20-3 run, led by Bobbitt.
“After I hit that one right before halftime, I felt really, really good,” he said. “I came out of halftime and hit one and it felt good. That was a big shift in the game.”
The lead quickly increased to as much as 21. Santa Barbara didn’t go away easy, however, as the Gauchos made another run late in the game to cut the deficit to just nine, but the mountain was too large to climb.
“I told the team that whatever I said at halftime, whatever it was it was wrong,” UCSB head coach Bob Williams said. “The way they came out, the shots they made the energy they had - they dismantled us.”
Bryson (22 points, 10 rebounds) and Gabe Vincent had big games for the Gauchos (18-13), who saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end, but a lack of aggression and defensive execution ultimately doomed them.
“Well it’s tough to come back from a 20-point deficit,” Bryson said. “We didn’t come out in the fist half with energy or the second half with energy. In a game like this, you’ve got to come out and play the whole 40 minutes. When you’re down that much, it’s just hard to come back. They played a great game defensively and we just came up short.”
Hawaii (26-5) will get a chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 when the ‘Bows were still a member of the WAC. They await No. 3 Long Beach State, with the championship game at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
“We’re ready for the championship game, this is what we’ve been working for all year,” Jankovic said. “We’re the only ones who believed we’d be back in this position.”