The nonconference slate for Big West men’s basketball is coming to an end and teams are left with only a few final chances to make adjustments prior to conference play kicking off. This week, short-handed Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State were able to make adjustments in home wins while UC Riverside failed to rebound after a slow start. Here are some of the highs and lows of the Big West this week.
Seeley Shines for Titans D.J. Seeley’s teammates and coaches continually talk about how unselfish the senior guard is. Whenever the ball is in his hands, good things happen: He makes plays, he finds open men, he creates shots and he also make them too, as evidenced by his 27 points against Texas Southern last week.
Seeley put up big numbers in two Cal State Fullerton (5-5) wins, one at home against Idaho State and one in Houston against the Bulldogs. Seeley scored 27 with seven assists against the Bulldogs and contributed 11 points, four rebounds and three assists two nights earlier against Idaho State.
“He’s a complete player,” said Fullerton head coach Andy Newman. “He can score in a myriad of ways. It’s very easy to draw up good plays for him because all you’ve got to do is draw up a play and he’s good.”
Seeley trails UC Davis’ Corey Hawkins – the Big West’s scoring leader – by less than a point per game averaging, 18.8. But it’s everything else he does, the 4.1 assists per game, the conference-leading 2.6 steals per game and his ability to defend the ball on the other end that has given him the respect of everyone else in the Titans’ program.
“He’s our first option, we go as he goes,” said point guard Kwame Vaughn. “But if not, he’s unselfish. He can make plays for everybody else.”
Help is on the Way Before the season began, Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson wondered if the 49ers, the defending Big West champions, were reloading or rebuilding. Most of the preseason has looked as though it was a rebuild job, as Long Beach struggled its way to a 4-6 record.
But early injuries have limited The Beach. Sophomore point guard Mike Caffey has had to shoulder a large load in his first season as a starter as back up Branford Jones went down with a broken leg in the first game of the season. Junior guard Jerramy King is also out for the season with a shoulder injury and last week, Nick Shepard went down with a sprained knee ligament in practice.
Long Beach still managed an 82-65 home victory over Division II BYU-Hawaii but it wasn’t pretty for all 40 minutes. Caffey battled through severe leg cramps for career-highs with 21 points, 11 rebounds and six steals. Ennis also had a career night with 29 points and 15 rebounds even while sitting significant minutes in foul trouble.
“James and Mike really played well,” Monson said, “Especially Mike, who has been struggling of late.”
Long Beach, who has played four top-25 opponents this season, will be the recipient of an early Christmas present Tuesday, at UCLA, when three transfers will become eligible to play. Once semester grades are posted on Monday, Keala King (Arizona State), Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Edgar Garibay (Loyola Marymount) are expected to become eligible which will alleviate the 49ers’ lack of depth.
But The Beach’s issues are far from being resolved.
“The disappointing thing is that we’re two months in and we’re making the same mistakes we made in the first week of practice,” Monson said.
Tigers to the Wire Pacific (5-5) has played Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster five times and five times the senior guard has torched the Tigers. This year, the Tigers struggled to contain the Broncos’ all-time leading scorer but they didn’t let him push the game completely out of reach, falling 75-71 in a game that featured 13 lead changes and 12 ties.
Down by just three with a little over a minute to play, Sama Taku hit a corner three to tie the game at 66. Santa Clara then called a timeout and Pacific head coach Bob Thomason called for a change in the defense from man-to-man to zone.
Foster, who finished with 31 points, picked up a ball screen and drained another three. On the next play, Foster picked Taku’s pocket and took it back for a layup to give the Broncos a 71-66 lead that they would not relinquish.
“We’re good enough to win close games, but you have to make plays, and they did,” Thomason told the Stockton Record-Net. “These are all things we’re learning.”
Highlanders Bottom Out UC Riverside turned in a dismal performance Saturday afternoon at USC. The Trojans, who had been losers of five straight before hosting UCR, stomped over their opponents to the tune of 44 points in a 70-26 win. UCR was held to just 19 percent from the field, which was the lowest opponent shooting percentage in USC history.
The 26 points was also the lowest in Highlander history. It was only six more than the least amount scored in a Division I game in the shot clock era.
Chris Harriel finally ended a long scoring drought for the Highlanders with a three at 5:33 in the second half. It was the first field goal of the entire half and the only three made by UCR all night.
“Things just kind of unraveled on us,” said head coach Jim Woolridge. “We couldn’t make a shot, make a free throw. So just all around a poor effort.”
The Trojans were sympathetic.
“Jim Woolridge is a hell of a coach,” said USC head coach Kevin O’Neill. “I feel for anyone in that situation.”
Trojan point guard Jio Fontan echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“Seeing a team go through that struggle is unfortunate,” Fontan said. “I have a lot of respect for them.”
UC Riverside is just 2-8 this season heading into their final two nonconference games and have defeated only one Division I opponent.
Quick Hitters Hawaii (5-3) engaged Chaminade in a shootout. The friendly rivalry held at Molokai High School’s “The Barn” was packed for a Saturday night offensive flurry in which six Rainbow Warriors scored in double-digits in the 104-93 win. The bench alone scored 40 with Brandon Spearman coming off the pine for 18 points and five rebounds. … Hawaii will now host the American Airlines Diamondhead Classic. No. 4 Arizona and No. 18 San Diego State will highlight a field that also includes Ole Miss, Miami, East Tennessee State, San Francisco and Indiana State. … UC Davis (2-6) snapped a four-game losing streak with an 87-65 home win over Eastern Washington, Monday night. Five Aggies scored in double figures and UC Davis did not turn the ball over at all in the second half. … UC Irvine (5-6) came into the weekend having lost five of their last six with their only win in that stretch coming over NAIA San Diego Christian. But the Anteaters went on a strong final run at Fresno State, Saturday night, scoring the final 12 points of the game to put the Bulldogs away, 58-51.