Page 2 From The Tournament: Field Preps For Walter Pyramid, Honda Center
The head coaches from the eight men's and women's schools participating in the 2017 Big West Basketball Tournament participated in a Monday morning conference call with the media. Here are some of the excerpts.
by Jill Painter Lopez
UC Davis backcourt has double the fun with twin time
UC Davis is a well-oiled machine that lost just two games in the Big West en route to winning the conference title. If in the Big West Tournament you think you're seeing double with "Eaton" on the back of two guards' jerseys, you're not. Sophomore twins Karley and Kourtney Eaton have teamed up to help Davis in its 10-game winning streak heading into the tournament.
"They're two of the most fun kids I've had an opportunity to coach," UC Davis coach Jennifer Gross said. "They bring so many positive things. Their other teammates love them so much. They bring that sisterhood to the team. The thing I love about them most is that they're so unselfish. A lot of times I'll put one in and then I'll put the other one in and say, 'all right, it's twin time.' They bring a lightness to the court. The thing I'm most impressed about is neither had played an ounce of man-to-man defense before they came here. They were pretty far behind and have a long way to go (defensively) but they're committed to improving and getting better."
49ers collect first ever Big West sweep of the specialty awards
Long Beach State won 21 games this season, and it did so with contributions from so many players. But the 49ers have a dynamic trio of seniors who have proven to be the best at what they do. Anna Kim won the best hustle player award, Jewelyn Sawyer won best defensive player award and Raven Benton the sixth player of the year award. It's the first time a school has swept all three of the special award categories.
"There's a lot of great players," head coach Jody Wynn said. "Obviously, I voted for everybody else because I can't vote for my own kids. I appreciate coaches recognizing their hard work. Anna Kim being a hustle player is just in her DNA. Even when she's hurt, she's diving for loose balls and taking charges. There's no stop. You just have to take her out of the game. She won't stop. She does it every day in practice. She's cut differently.
"Jewelyn Sawyer has been a mainstay defensively. It doesn't matter if it's a point guard or post player, she's going to work. Her IQ is what sets her apart.
"Raven has had a year that's not the most ideal. She rarely practices and was told before the season started she shouldn't be playing and should have surgery, which would keep her out 7-9 months. She elected to fight through it because she wanted to play with these seniors and finish it off the right way, that's what she said. To have an impact with the severity of her injuries is remarkable."
No magic carpet ride for Matadors
The No. 3 CSUN Matadors lost their last two games of the regular season, but they won nine consecutive games before that in a fantastic stretch. The Big West season didn't get off to such a great start, however. The Matadors won their first Big West game against Cal State Fullerton, then lost four in a row. Then, with the help of Eliza Matthews - who was named Big West Freshman of the Year - and Channon Fluker - who is the Big West's Player of the Year - they won nine consecutive games.
"The irony of Eliza winning freshman of the year and Channon winning player of the year is that they were at the center of the beginning of our change," CSUN coach Jason Flowers said.
"When the book is written 10-15 years from now, it will go into more details. The kids had to figure out some things. They had to decide how they would respond to the adversity. It wasn't overnight, to be honest. I think the four-game skid at the beginning was a result of the adversity. You could see glimpses at different times start to show themselves. They won a couple of games and if they just did things the right way, they could be successful. They started winning more games and getting more confidence. It was the kid, not some magic dust. It's not a secret anyone had. I'm not that smart. I've been preaching the same message for seven years. The kids took ownership of some things."
Riverside might turn to point guard by committee due to injuries
UC Riverside coach John Margaritis will have to draw up some different backcourt scenarios since he has two players on crutches this week. Not a good sight with the Big West Conference Tournament starting Tuesday with a game against No. 8 seed UC Irvine. Point guard Simone DeCoud and forward Skyler Lewis both are injured and their status is unclear.
"I don't know if Simone will be able to play. Both her and Skyler did not practice yesterday," Margaritis said. "Both are on crutches. I was going to keep it to myself, but you asked, so I can't lie to you. We're hurting ... I don't know (who will start at) point guard. It will be by committee ... I don't know if we have (another) point guard."
Hawaii packing for lengthy stay in California
Last year, the Rainbow Wahine won the Big West Tournament with a double bye into the semifinals and needed just two victories. Hawaii's men's and women's teams both made the NCAA Tournament. If they make the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be via four wins in five days. It's a tall order for coach Laura Beeman and the Rainbow Wahine but not an impossible task.
The Rainbow Wahine won their final three games to end a six-game losing streak, so Hawai‘i returned to its winning ways before the tournament.
"You just show up and play," Beeman said. "This is our bracket. We've known for a while this is what we have to do. There are no excuses. There's no feeling bad for ourselves. You've got to beat everyone to be the best. It's a tough journey, but it's the one we have. We're packing for four days. We're here to play, and we're here to win. We've got to get on the court and play."
Luke Nelson overcomes injuries to win Big West's Player of the Year; Turner wins Coach of Year
A hamstring injury and other ailments didn't slow senior guard Luke Nelson from playing the best basketball in the conference. It was undeniable, even though he played in just 14 games. The sharp-shooting guard from England averaged 17.2 points per game and 1.6 steals to add more hardware for the top-seeded Anteaters.
"It's impressive for anybody to play at the level to win player of the year no matter what the circumstances," said UC Irvine coach Russell Turner. "It was disappointing to go through the adversity he did. He's been a great teammate and great captain all season, despite the times he was sidelined. We were very cautious managing his injuries, hoping he'd be available for the stretch run. We knew we had to win all three (of our final regular season games) to win the conference. He was able to play his best basketball. That's a credit to him and his talent. I'm really happy and proud of him. I think player of the year is somewhat of a team award, too. He wins in part because of our team success, too."
The same can be said of Turner, who won the Big West coach of the year honors. Turner also won the award in 2014. And sophomore forward Jonathan Galloway was named the conference's Best Defensive Player.
UC Davis plans to make like Taylor Swift and 'shake it off'
UC Davis earned the second seed in the Big West Conference and for that should feel plenty good about itself as it heads into the conference tournament. The hiccup that could be worrisome is that top seed UC Irvine beat Davis 79-49 on Saturday, the final game before the tournament.
"We'll shake it off after today," UC Davis coach Jim Les said. "As of today we're moving forward and focusing on Cal Poly and the task at hand. These guys are able to do that. They understand what happened last game and even throughout the conference season. We've done some really good things and some things you want do-overs. We've got to learn from those and understand what makes us a good basketball team. For the most part, we were aggressive and able to change up schemes ... and execute on the fly. That's what made us a good basketball team. There won't be any hangover Thursday from what happened Saturday."
No. 3 Titans hope to feast on confidence
Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor has done an impressive turnaround from last year's 3-13 Big West mark to this year's 10-6 third-place finish. In some ways, he's surprised with the seven-win swing and in other ways, he's not. The Titans scored impressive back-to-back home game victories over top seed UC Irvine and No. 2 seed UC Davis in February in Fullerton. The idea of knocking off one of the top two seeds in the tournament isn't far-fetched since the Titans already have proved they can beat both teams. And, they've won six of their last seven games.
"From the standpoint that I've looked at this group and from the talent standpoint and size standpoint, we checked the box," Taylor said. The intangibles were coming together as the team and guys were buying into their roles and accepting their roles. Did we overachieve in some areas? Yes. We left some meat on the bone, quite frankly, based on what we're capable of. We dropped two early games to CSUN and Riverside, and no disrespect to them, but I thought we gave those games away. That's huge if ... But, I think we learned from it and have seen the benefit of it. We understand the necessary and important things to win."
Yussuf rebounds for impactful run for 49ers in Big West
Temidayo Yussuf missed all of last year with an injury, and it took him a while to get back in his groove, but he did just that this season. Yussuf, a 6-foot-7 forward, was named second team All-Big West as he led the Big West with a 57.8 field goal percentage in conference action and averaged 13.6 points per game in the Big West.
"I just think he's got his timing back and gotten into shape," Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said. "The injury he had was severe. He wasn't just lost last season, he was lost for a lot of the offseason. ... I could tell he was going to have a great year last year when he went out with the injury. I have a new assistant, and he kept saying, 'I don't think Temy can help us. He can't score, and he can't get down the court.' I said Temy is going to be fine once we get to league. He wasn't in shape and didn't have his timing. His game is all about rhythm. He's comfortable in the second half of the season. He's giving us a nice presence inside."
Rainbow Warriors have mini airport celebration as postseason a reality
Hawai‘i, the Big West Conference Tournament's defending champion, has the chance to defend its title from one year ago. The NCAA committee on infractions determined Hawai‘i was eligible for the postseason last Friday. In 2015-16, Hawai‘i made good on its tournament title by winning its first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. The Rainbow Warriors celebrated the news in an interesting location - an airport. Location was unimportant for coach Eran Ganot and his team, who are thrilled for the opportunity.
"You always envision that special moment," Ganot said. "Either way, I'm proud of the way the guys competed, regardless of the outcome. You don't envision how you hear it. We were at the airport Thursday night after our game against Davis. We (got the call) about five minutes before we boarded our flight to play Long Beach State on Saturday. We gathered the team in a random corner by the gate (and told them). It doesn't matter where you are when you hear. Guys were fired up. They deserved that moment. Then we jumped on a plane."