Big West Notebook: Week 5

December 11, 2012

Pacific was the star of the Big West Conference this week. The Tigers won two games in dramatic fashion, the first an overtime victory against Nevada before grinding out a win over a reloaded San Francisco team. Elsewhere in the Big West, Long Beach State struggled with a brutal two-game swing against a pair of top-10 teams and Cal State Northridge continues to search for a defining win against a top opponent.

Rivera leads Pacific to a 2-0 week

The Tigers (5-4) showed poise and resilience last week in two wins over Nevada and San Francisco. But the victories didn’t come easy, as the Tigers needed overtime to defeat the Wolfpack and a bad start against the Dons. But contributions like those from forward Ross Rivera, who scored in double-digits off the bench in both games, significantly aided in the Tigers’ big week.

It was Rivera who played the hero role against the Wolfpack, hitting a turnaround jumper with just 27 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and force overtime.

His efforts didn’t go unnoticed, as he was named Big West Player of the Week for the first time in his career.

While the win over Nevada was impressive, the better win came against a streaking USF squad that was coming off of a five-game winning streak with the last win being a solid showing against St. John. After allowing the Dons to open up to a 10-0 lead in less than three minutes, it became obvious that the Tigers would need to overcome themselves in order to get back on top and win.

The team would do just that, closing the gap to just two by halftime. A 58.3 percent shooting performance would overwhelm the Dons whose top offensive weapon was stifled by the Tigers’ defense.

De’End Smith, the highly-touted UCLA transfer who returned to San Francisco to live near his ailing mother in the Filmore District of the city, was held to just seven points, well below his 19.7 average. The defensive trio of Colin Beatty, Rodrigo de Souza and Sam Taku rendered him nearly useless, as he went just 2-of-10 from the field.

"After getting down by eight in the second half, we played fantastic basketball,” said Pacific head coach Bob Thomason. “We shared the basketball, made the extra pass and our four post guys played their best game of the year.”

The front court paced the Tigers offensively, with Rivera’s 17 points leading the way. Travis Fulton scored 12 and Khalil Kelly balanced it out with 10. Their efforts made point guard Lorenzo McCloud’s slow day (four points, seven assists) almost irrelevant.

"We did it without Lorenzo (McCloud) doing it, and that's big for our basketball team," Thomason said.

"That's just the kind of team we are – everyone likes to pass the ball, and we have a lot of guys that can hit open shots,” Rivera said.

Pacific will face two more future West Coast Conference opponents in the next two weeks, finishing off a three-game home stand against Santa Clara Saturday, at the Spanos Center.

Beach Brutality

Long Beach State (3-6), owner of one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the country, embarked on their toughest road trip of the season with games at then No. 4 Syracuse and No. 7 Ohio State. The Beach embarked on that road trip just two days after suffering a home loss to Fresno State and head coach Dan Monson continued to lament his team’s lack of identity.

Ultimately, Monson wanted his team to grow as a unit on this road trip. And while they couldn’t come away with a win, falling 84-53 to Syracuse and 89-55 to Ohio State, the trip wasn’t for naught.

The game against the Orange exposed the 49ers to a 2-3 zone, much like the one UCLA runs, giving them a glimpse of what they might see on the Dec. 18 matchup against the Bruins in Westwood. Against the Buckeyes, James Ennis and Dan Jennings showed that they could hang with some of the best bigs in the country, with Jennings scoring 16 with eight rebounds and Ennis finishing with 12 points.

“You have to put kids in adverse situations to see how they react” Monson said. “It’s hard but they need to figure it out. We try to embrace that. We’re trying to get mentally tougher and this team has got to grow up a little bit.”

In front of a rowdy Carrier Dome crowd of 20,876, the 49ers initially played close to the Orange early in the game but were torched in transition and the 2-3 zone bothered Long Beach into bad outside shots. The Orange were held to just a 30.3 percent mark from the field in the second half, but a dismal second-half shooting performance of their own (8-for-35) left Long Beach with too much ground to make up.

Two days later in Columbus, Ohio, with the 49ers at the end of a long trip, the Buckeyes overpowered them from the beginning. Although slightly better in the first half, the 49ers, who have been outscored 272-339 in second-half play this season, came out flat in the bottom frame.

“It’s a work in progress and we’ve got a long way to go,” Monson said. “I was happy with how hard we fought, but you’re not going to play well until you consistently have the same effort that we had in the first half.”

The 49ers will get a short reprieve with BYU-Hawaii visiting the Walter Pyramid Saturday, but not for long as the following week they face UCLA.

Foul Trouble

UC Santa Barbara (3-5) is still working through the rebuilding process, as is evidenced by its recent 84-70 loss at No. 17 San Diego State. The Gauchos committed 22 personal fouls with three starters fouling out.

Two of them, forwards Alan Williams and Taran Brown had productive nights despite having to sit with foul trouble, with Williams finishing with 18 points and six rebounds and Brown scoring 16 and recording three blocks, guard Michael Bryson fouled out after an unproductive 15 minutes in which he scored no points and turned the ball over twice.

The Aztecs had 21 chances at the line, converting 15 of them.

In addition, the Aztecs shot lights out with a 55.8 percent mark from the field and shot almost 70 percent from behind the arc.

"That is a very, very good basketball team," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "They can beat you in so many ways, on both ends of the court. We saw tonight what they are capable of from the outside when they really crank it up."

Junior Kyle Boswell came off the bench for what ended up being a career night. Boswell tied SDSU’s Chase Tapley with a game-high 23 points. Boswell went 7-for-10 from the perimeter, also a career-high mark.

"Kyle was really feeling it tonight," Williams said. "Some of the shots he made were from really, really deep. We've always known what he was capable of and tonight wasn't surprising.”

The Gauchos acknowledged the challenge that San Diego State will bring to the Big West next season, and the elevation of the overall level of play in the Big West.

"Yeah, next year we ought to try to move it to the aircraft carrier,” Williams joked. “It might be a better result for us. Making them play in the wind, they probably wouldn't be able to shoot the ball like that.”

"I’m (happy about SDSU joining the Big West). It's a good challenge every year,” Boswell said. “My whole career we've played them. I've played them here my freshman year. It's a fun atmosphere.”

CSUN still searching

After one the best starts in school history, Cal State Northridge (7-3) has struggled to go on the road and win against a bigger conference. Although the Matadors kept things close in Provo, Utah last month against BYU, they stumbled badly against UCLA.

After a gimme win over NAIA Vanguard University at home, the Matadors then took on another Pac-12 opponent on the road in Arizona State. CSUN had a well-balanced offense with Stephan Hicks doubling up to lead the way (18 points, 10 rebounds) and they battled tough on the glass, out-rebounding the Sun Devils 42-32.

But there was one big, x-factor for Arizona State in center Jordan Bachynski, who helped lead the Sun Devils to an 87-76 victory. The word big might be an understatement. The 7-foot-2 center picked apart the Matadors’ game plan to record the first triple-double in school history. Bachynski scored 13 points, pulled down 12 boards and set a school record with 12 blocks.

"He was an extremely visible presence," said CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell. "He only scored 13 points but I felt he was probably responsible for more than 25 to 30 points with his blocked shots. He really made his presence known. It really affected us inside.”

The Matadors will get a break this week before facing another easy opponent in NAIA San Diego Christian Dec. 18, back home at the Matadome.

Quick Hitters

Cal State Fullerton (3-5) has continued its sharp-shooting ways this season. The Titans, who were among the Division I leaders in scoring offense last season, have picked up where they left off ranked No. 3 in the country with an 86.1 average.

UC Davis is also one of the better shooting teams in the country, currently ranked No. 18 in Division I with a 48.6 percent shooting clip. Conversely, the Aggies are one of the worst defensive teams in the country, allowing 74.0 points per game. Northridge and Fullerton are also in that category.

Davis’ Corey Hawkins is finally getting to show what he is capable of after being sparsely used with Arizona State. The son of NBA veteran Hersey Hawkins has averaged 21.4 points per game, good enough for 15th in the nation.

Hawkins has also dished out 23 assists, second on the team, and leads the Aggies in steals with 11.