Big West Roundup: Week 9
The first full week of conference play showed two teams that may be pulling away from the rest in the Big West Conference race and a team that was once thought to be the team to beat is now severely skidding. Here’s a look at the stories in the Big West.
Jawato keeps Hawaii unbeaten
Hawaii (9-5, 3-0) remains one of two undefeated teams through the first two weeks of Big West play, thanks in part to a record-breaking performance by freshman guard Brandon Jawato.
Already 2-0 after defeating Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton, the Rainbow Warriors got a big boost from freshman guard Jawato against UC Riverside when he hit seven straight threes to open the game. Jawato might have hit even more if he wasn’t limited in the second half due to cramps but his seven makes were good enough for a couple records: It was both a Big West Conference and Hawaii record for 3-pointers without a miss and a UH freshman record.
His 21 points was a game high and his first half efforts helped the ‘Bows to a comfortable first-half lead, allowing them to cruise to a 76-61 win over the Highlanders. He was rewarded for his efforts with a Big West Player of the Week award, the first of his career.
Hawaii finally travels to the mainland for the first time in over a month. The Warriors have played only one game outside of the Islands, a 77-63 loss to then-No. 25 UNLV on Dec. 1, at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Cal State Fullerton guard D.J. Seeley attempted to put his team on his back and carry them through two tough road games last week. Knowing that teams were going to pressure point guard Kwame Vaughn, Seeley came into last week determined to take control and open up more opportunities for Vaughn. It worked beautifully, as Vaughn scored 26 points with five assists, five rebounds and four steals at Hawaii, last Thursday night. Seeley himself scored 22 points and pulled down eight boards in a hotly-contested game against the Rainbow Warriors.
But in the final seconds all of that effort went for naught, as Garrett Jefferson, a little-used reserve, floated in a high-arching teardrop to give the ‘Bows a 90-88 win.
Just a few hours later, the dejected Titans (8-6, 2-1) boarded a plane back to Orange County and began preparing for Cal State Northridge. Seeley, a team captain, took the loss especially hard.
“I don’t want to get into that one,” Seeley said. “I watched the film and those last couple plays, we got screwed. But I’m moving on from that one. I don’t want to think about that one.”
Coming into Saturday’s game at CSUN, Seeley wanted to make a statement. Thirty-seven points later, his message was clear.
The Titans routed the Matadors, 105-86, at the Matadome, with Seeley scoring a career-high 37 points in the process. Seeley’s total was tied for the fifth-most in Cal State Fullerton history and was the most scored in the Big West Conference this season.
“It was important to come out and get this win,” Seeley said. “And I think we did that and made a statement while doing it.”
Vaughn and Sammy Yeager scored 22 and 21 points each, and it was the first time since Jan. 21, of last year that three Titans all scored at least 20 or more points.
First-year head coach Andy Newman kept his composure during the game, but later erupted in celebration.
Putting his Tiger Woods-esque fist pump into words, he said, “This was a toughness game, and these guys met the challenge. And they had every excuse not to.
“They took that adversity and looked it in the face and achieved anyways.”
Cal Poly’s fast start
Cal Poly (6-6, 3-0) is the only other remaining unbeaten team and the Mustangs have done it all without a star, instead playing as a complete team. Balanced offensive efforts have carried the Mustangs in their first three Big West games.
Last Thursday, Poly finally overcame Long Beach State, notching the first win over The Beach since 2010 and its first home win against the 49ers since 2008 with a 79-73 effort in Mott Gym. It was an efficient performance, as the Mustangs received contributions from nearly every player in the game. The entire starting lineup scored at least nine points and Reese Morgan came off the bench for 16.
Chris Eversly and Dylan Royer are the closest things the Mustangs have to stars right now, averaging 15.7 and 10.1 points each, respectively, but point guard Jamal Johnson always seems to find a man when Eversly and Royer aren’t available. Poly’s 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio is the best mark in the conference and the Mustangs’s conference-best 125 turnovers shows they know how to take care of the basketball.
CSUN Skid continues
Coming into conference play, the Matadors (9-6, 0-3) were the team to beat. A 6-0 start was one of the best in the program’s Division I history and the young Matadors handled a tough schedule well. But now the Matadors find themselves in the midst of an 0-3 start and at the bottom of the standings after a 65-64 loss to bottom-dweller UC Riverside and a blowout loss at the hands of Fullerton.
Fielding the third-youngest roster in Division I isn’t an excuse, according to head coach Bobby Braswell. The Matadors have weapons in Stephan Hicks and Stephen Maxwell and can’t let a little success get to their heads.
“To make no excuses, you’ve got a young basketball team, they’ve had some success and all of the sudden they’re feeling good about themselves,” Braswell said. “But if you don’t show up in conference you’re going to get beat.”
The Matadors opened the conference with a tough, three-point loss at Hawaii but then failed to rebound.
“I thought Hawaii could have gone either way. I thought we played hard,” Braswell said. “So far, the last few games, we haven’t shown up and played the way we’re capable of playing. We’ve been dictated to and we haven’t dictated much.”
Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara have been the top players in the Big West in recent seasons. The two have played one another in the last three Big West Championship games with Long Beach finally getting the best of the Gauchos last season. But both teams, heavy with senior talent that has departed this season, giving both teams a much different look last Saturday, when they squared off on FOX Sports Prime Ticket at Santa Barbara’s Thunderdome.
UC Santa Barbara is starting from scratch, boasting a roster of young but raw talent. The Beach has a veteran edge with three transfers but has struggled with consistency and injuries. Even without former Gaucho Orlando Johnson and 49er Casper Ware, the game still featured an entertaining battle between two old rivals.
In the end, it was Long Beach, the defending Big West champs, that left with a victory, defeating the Gauchos, 77-70.
The 49ers (6-8, 2-1) took their game inside, dominating in the paint and wore the Gauchos down for 52 points. The Beach alley-ooped their way to a second half lead, and when UCSB came back to tie, they pushed it outside to James Ennis and Mike Caffey.
Alan Williams, Santa Barbara’s talented big man, scored 16 points and pulled down eight boards but was clearly frustrated as he turned the ball over six times. Pressuring Williams was exactly what the 49ers intended to do.
“We really wanted to focus on guarding their big man Alan Williams, and I think we did a great job frustrating him tonight,” said Long Beach head coach Dan Monson. “We were focused defensively and played with more purpose when we were guarding their shooters.”
The 49ers, who have typically been somewhat turnover-prone this season, only turned the ball over 12 times while forcing the ball out of the Gauchos’ hands 18 times. And while there is still a heavy reliance on the starting five – a lineup that finally included Arizona State transfer Keala King – the five was productive enough with four all scoring at least 13 points.
“I think we showed a lot of character tonight and finally played as a team,” Monson said. “This team has a long way to go, but I'm really pleased with their effort tonight.
UC Davis (4-9, 0-2) and CSUN are the only two teams without a win. The Aggies fell to Pacific 74-64 last weekend … UC Irvine (7-9, 1-2) fell just short over the weekend, going down to UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly by just a combined eight points on the road … Hawaii has given the Big West an attendance boost in its first season as a member of the conference. Last season, the Big West ranked No. 24 in the NCAA in attendance numbers, drawing an average of 2,068 fans to its games. The Rainbow Warriors have played 12 home games at the Stan Sherriff Center, the most in the conference, and are averaging 6,096 fans per game. So far in the season, the Big West’s home attendance has already jumped to 2,481 fans per game.