Big West Roundup: Week 7

In a week of holiday celebrations, Big West basketball was right in the middle of the action celebrating some big wins and a big honor. Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine each won big against Pac-12 foes while Cal State Fullerton point guard Kwame Vaughn is now up for an award honoring the nation’s top collegiate point guards.
 
Hicks leads CSUN to Historic Win
Stephan Hicks earned his second Big West Player of the Week award after helping the Matadors (9-3) to a 2-0 week, highlighted by a 76-71 comeback win at Utah.
 
Down by as much as 21 points at Provo’s Huntsman Center, the Matadors pulled off a shocker to give CSUN its first victory over a Pac-12 team since 2005 and the biggest comeback win in head coach Bobby Braswell’s 17-year Matador career.
 
It was a win that Braswell won’t soon forget.
 
“I will remember this game as one of my greatest wins,” Braswell said. “To be down 21 points at halftime, and to make such a tremendous comeback on the road against a team that has been playing very well, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
 
For Hicks’ part, he scored 19 points and pulled down nine boards. Hicks went 8-for-11 from the field and scored eight points in the decisive second half. In two games on the week, Hicks, the Matadors’ leading scorer, shot 57.1 percent from the field, averaging a double-double with 16.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.
 
The Matadors couldn’t get a defensive stop in the first half, allowing the Utes to shoot 60 percent from the field. Utah took a 48-27 halftime lead into the locker room. But Braswell’s halftime speech was clearly an inspired one, as the Matadors came back and shot the lights out in the second half, outscoring Utah 49-23.
 
“We were dead in the water at halftime,” Braswell said. “We had no life, no energy. We didn’t play with any toughness. I told the guys [that] tough players win. I also told them I thought we could come back and win this game.”
 
Braswell switched up the defenses, employing a full-court, man-to-man for the second half and it paid dividends.
 
“The guys just kept getting stops,” Braswell said. “We just used our speed and athleticism better in the second half.”

Starting with 9:11 left in the second half, the Matadors went on a 23-5 run to come back to within one, 59-58. Josh Greene drained a triple to give CSUN a lead they would never relinquish. Greene added 13 points and Landon Drew came off the bench for 19 to balance out the offense and aid in CSUN’s 66 percent second-half shooting performance.

“This isn’t all about us,” said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “They shot over 60 percent and had guys make shots. Everything went to plan in the first half and their backcourt made the plays and baskets when they needed them.”

CSUN ends nonconference play sitting atop the Big West Conference standings and will open conference play Saturday, visiting Hawaii.

Vaughn Named to Cousy Award Watch List
Cal State Fullerton’s Kwame Vaughn has been recognized as one of the nation’s top point guards, as he was recently named one of 85 players to the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award.

Vaughn was named All-Big West Second Team last season, and this season he has consistently led one of the top offenses in the country, helping the Titans to 83.2 points per game, good enough for sixth in the NCAA. Vaughn’s own numbers have been nothing short of impressive, ranking second on the team in points and assists with 18.3 points per game and 3.8 assists and first in rebounds with 5.1 per game.

“I think he’s well-deserving of being considered one of the best point guards in the nation,” said Titans interim head coach Andy Newman. “I certainly understand there’s a lot of great company there, but what a tremendous accomplishment it is for him to even be talked about in that realm.”
 
A senior out of Oakland, Vaughn transferred after two seasons at San Francisco. His impact was instant – so much so that he was named a captain this season, along with D.J. Seeley.

“This year, we moved him to team captain and he has now taken a lot of the ownership as to whether our team plays good or plays bad, it’s on him,” Newman said. “Kwame is a high-level athlete who has been our point guard here for two years and has done a phenomenal job of balancing his roles as a scorer and a distributor.”

The Titans finished their nonconference schedule with an 87-65 win over NAIA Hope International.

Anteaters get it together
UC Irvine (6-7) has had a somewhat inconsistent nonconference season, but the Anteaters finally put it all together for a very complete performance last Thursday at the Galen Center, defeating USC, 61-54. It was the first win against the Trojans since 1983 and was a strong way to end the first half of the season.

“I have a real smart team and I’m very proud of how we played tonight with a lot of poise.  We have a bunch of guys who can all play,” said UCI head coach Russell Turner.

The Trojans never were able to find an answer for Daman Starring, who scored 23 points and pulled down six rebounds. The guard went 8-of-15 from the field to help the Anteaters shoot 42.1 percent.

“They threw everything they had at Daman Starring and he made tough, big shots,” Turner said.

UC Irvine has played to the level of their opponents this season, as is evidenced by close games against UCLA and LSU, and should they continue to play this way the Anteaters will be dangerous in conference play.

The Anteaters will open Big West play Saturday, hosting UC Davis.

Quick Hitters
Long Beach State (4-7) was let down last week against UCLA when neither Keala King nor Tony Freeland were able to dress, as was expected. The two high-profile transfers were not granted NCAA waivers and were forced to wait until the end of the semester to become eligible. A thinned out 49er squad fell 89-70 at Pauley Pavilion but the contributions of Dan Jennings in the game was difficult to overlook. The forward went 13-of-15 from the field for a career-high 27 points. The Beach hosts Pacific Saturday at the Walter Pyramid to begin Big West play … Hawaii (5-4) will play in the Diamond Head Classic’s fifth-place game for the third-straight year. The hosts of the event fell to Miami in the opening round before rebounding against East Tennessee State … UC Santa Barbara (4-7) began last week with a strong showing against Cal before going cold against Wyoming. At Berkeley, the Gauchos were forced to kick it outside after the Golden Bears overpowered them inside, and while they equaled their season-high with 13 treys, Cal outlasted them to win 68-59. A few days later, UCSB got a second go-around with Wyoming, but a dismal shooting performance in the second half yielded only 17 points in the 56-40 loss … Cal Poly (4-6) traveled to Spokane, Wash., for its final test of the nonconference portion of the schedule. The Huskies shot 51.1 percent from the field to overtake the Mustangs, 75-62. UC Riverside (3-9) will host the Mustangs Saturday … UC Davis (4-7) ended a long road stretch in which the Aggies played five games in eight days, with three victories.