Ware, Long Beach State lose to New Mexico 75-68

Casper Ware was largely responsible for getting Long Beach State

back to the NCAA tournament and the biggest reason the 49ers were

such a popular upset pick.

Ware finally wore out on Thursday, unable to provide one final

sparkling moment in his 49ers career.

Hounded all afternoon by lanky New Mexico guard Kendall

Williams, Ware struggled to a 5-of-19 shooting performance and the

12th-seeded 49ers saw their season end with a 75-68 loss to the

fifth-seeded Lobos in the West Regional.

Ware finished with 17 points, nowhere near a season low. But

nothing came easily for the Big West Player of the Year after a

season in which he made almost everything look simple.

”We’re here because of Casper Ware, and so when we leave it’s

going to be because of him. He carried us. I didn’t give him a blow

the second half. I told him we kind of wore him out,” Long Beach

State coach Dan Monson said.

Ware went 25 minutes without a field goal, a span that began

with a 3-pointer at the 14:58 mark of the first half and ended when

he scored with about 10 minutes left in the second.

”I think the early start of that game when we couldn’t settle

down – we had opportunities to get a lead and get up six or eight

and play from ahead – is totally different,” Monson said. ”You

can get guys blows. You can play a little bit different. And I

think we – Casper is our team and how he played at the end was

indicative of us. We just didn’t have enough gas to finish.”

Williams’ production wasn’t only at the defensive end, where he

was largely responsible for forcing Ware into tough shots. He also

provided an offensive punch in the second half that the Lobos

needed.

Williams scored 14 of his 16 points after halftime to go along

with 18 points and 13 rebounds from Drew Gordon. But New Mexico’s

punishing forward was mostly a complement to Williams in the second

half. Williams went 6 of 11 from the field, hitting a pair of

important 3-pointers, and the Lobos (28-6) made their free throws

in the final minute to close it out.

The Lobos will face No. 4 seed Louisville in the third round

Saturday after the Cardinals beat Davidson 69-62. New Mexico has

been knocked out in its second game of the tournament in five of

its previous six NCAA appearances, including two years ago when the

Lobos were a No. 3 seed and fell to 11th-seeded Washington by

18.

”He’s always had that ability to make really big plays, if not

by pass, by shot, or by the free throw line,” New Mexico coach

Steve Alford said of Williams. ”Or now what he’s developed into

which has been very, very unappreciated all year is the type of

defensive player he is. Casper Ware is terrific. The majority of

the night it was Kendall Williams. He’s 5 for 19. He had to work

for everything he had.”

Ware carried the 49ers (25-9) to the Big West title, finally

vanquishing UC Santa Barbara in the championship game after losing

to the Gauchos in the previous two conference title games. He

scored 33 in the final and because of the 49ers’ challenging

nonconference schedule, they were seen as a popular choice to pull

the common 12-5 tournament upset.

But after his 3-pointer with 15 minutes left in the first half,

Ware didn’t hit another field goal until 10 minutes remained. That

came during a 49ers run that led to Long Beach State leading 61-59

with 5 minutes left after James Ennis stole an errant pass from

Hugh Greenwood and windmill-slammed the 49ers into the lead for the

first time since it was 27-25.

”I thought we had a good chance to win the game after that,”

Ennis said. ”They just beat us at the end. The free throws caught

up with us at the end.”

Alford immediately called a timeout and got the desired

response, with Williams knocking down an open 3. Ware then missed

the front end of a one-and-one and Gordon scored for a 64-61 New

Mexico advantage. Williams and Greenwood later added free throws

for a 68-63 lead, but Mike Caffey’s 3-pointer made it a

one-possession game.

Amid the chaos of Long Beach State trying to trap defensively,

Williams calmly dribbled in the lane and hit a floater with 1:25

left to push the lead back to 70-66. Ware missed an open 3 with 45

seconds left and Demetrius Walker, Greenwood and Gordon put the

victory away at the free throw line.

T.J. Robinson had 12 points and 14 rebounds for the 49ers. Ennis

finished with 13 points.

”I hit them before. They just didn’t go in tonight,” Ware

said. ”It’s not like I’ve never hit them before. I hit plenty of

those shots. Today they wouldn’t give me a roll. When we went up by

two, they just made more plays than we did.”

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