Big West Roundup: Week 8

The first week of Big West play brought us a thriller in Long Beach, shootouts in Fullerton and Hawaii and a milestone victory for one head coach. Here’s a look at what went down on the first week of Big West Conference action.

Yeager’s big night

A depleted Cal State Fullerton (7-5, 1-0) roster has left forward Sammy Yeager with a big task on his hands as the only big man left. But Yeager had his best offensive performance of the season in Fullerton’s 86-79 win over UC Santa Barbara (4-8, 0-1), Saturday at the Titan Gym.

Yeager scored a career-high 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting and lit it up from behind the arc going 8-for-11. Yeager also had four rebounds, two assists and a steal, good enough to earn the senior his first Big West Player of the Week award.

Yeager was admittedly confident with his shooting touch but attributed much of his performance to guards Kwame Vaughn and D.J. Seeley’s distribution.

“You definitely get more confident as the game goes on, especially when guys like D.J. and Kwame are just finding you for wide-open shots,” Yeager said. “So I really didn’t have to fight too hard for those shots. They were just set shots and I just had to make them.”

Vaughn and Seeley were both nearly unstoppable, helping the Titans hold off a Gaucho offense that shot nearly 50 percent in the second half and never let the Titans have much breathing room. Vaughn scored 27 points with six rebounds and four assists and Seeley had 14 points and five assists.

Santa Barbara also enjoyed a strong offensive night. Center Alan Williams scored 22 points and dominated on the glass with 16 boards and forward Taran Brown scored 20 and hit a career-high six 3-pointers.

Santa Barbara hit a season-high 15 3’s, showing a marked improvement from their last game against Wyoming when the Gauchos made only one triple. Three-point shooting in particular helped them get back in the game in the second half after falling behind by as many as 14 points, but the defense left something to be desired, and that was not lost on head coach Bob Williams.

“We can talk all we want about being a young team and growing up, but tonight, on the defensive end, I didn’t see any growth,” Williams said. “I was not pleased with what we did defensively tonight.”

New faces at The Beach
Until this season, Dan Monson had never had a midseason transfer in his entire head coaching career. This year, he had three.

“And I’ll never do that again,” the Long Beach State (5-8, 1-0) head coach said.

A trio of Division I transfers in Tony Freeland (DePaul), Keala King (Arizona State) and Edgar Garibay (Loyola Marymount) were finally made eligible last week. The impacts of Freeland and King were felt immediately as both Freeland and King played integral roles in The Beach’s 67-63 win against Pacific at the Walter Pyramid on Saturday.

The initial plan was for the three to be worked into the mix in short spurts. Monson decided against starting all three, instead only starting Freeland and bringing King in off the bench at first to spell Freeland. Garibay did not dress Saturday because of issues related with his ACL surgery, though he is expected to make his debut soon but Monson gave no specific timeline.

“I only started one of them because I didn’t want to bring them both in like a Chinese Fire Drill,” Monson joked.

But plans to work them in slowly were nixed when nothing the 49ers did worked in the first half. The Pacific (6-7, 0-1) defense swarmed Dan Jennings inside and Long Beach didn’t respond well on the outside, failing to make an outside shot until the final two minutes of the first half and had only two offensive rebounds the entire first frame. The result was Freeland playing 35 minutes.

“I knew the first five minutes were going to be kind of tough, I got tired,” Freeland said. “I was dying out there. My legs, they almost gave out on me.”

But it was evident that Freeland was happy to be back on the court. He dove for nearly every loose ball, taking out photographers and cheerleaders on both ends of the court. In his first game back he took a beating, getting a few trips to the foul line and making 7-of-8 free throws, although he did admit that he may have sold a few saying, “I was kind of flopping.”

Freeland finished with 15 points and King added five rebounds and an important steal in the final minute of the game that shut the door on the Tigers’ comeback. But even more important was Mike Caffey being allowed to rest and James Ennis not having to take control. Both scored 19 points with the pressure finally off of them for the first time all season.

Hawaii wins Big West debut
The Rainbow Warriors (7-5, 1-0) had a strong showing in their first-ever Big West Conference game, defeating first-place Cal State Northridge, 74-71, Saturday on their home court in the Stan Sherriff Center.

It was a back-and-forth contest that featured six lead changes and five ties. Both teams alternated long runs and long scoring droughts, but in the end, it was Hawaii that went on one last run to top the Matadors (9-4, 0-1).

Although the Matadors are off to one of their best starts in program history, head coach Bobby Braswell has noticed an alarming trend on the road.

“It’s becoming a habit to dig ourselves a hole in the last two games,” Braswell said.

After CSUN went on a 13-2 opening run, Hawaii shook off its slow start and ended up finishing with a 61 percent mark from the field in the first half while the Matadors fell behind 44-33. CSUN got three strong offensive efforts from Stephan Hicks (25 points) and Josh Greene (15 points) while Stephen Maxwell contributed on both ends (14 points, 10 rebounds). But the defense struggled to contain a balanced Warrior offense, led by Christian Standhardinger (17 points) and Isaac Fotu (16 points, 11 rebounds).

“Their (UH) size got to us a little bit,” Braswell said “We also didn’t play smart down the stretch and we gave up too many fouls.”

Free throws proved to be a key factor down the stretch, as Hawaii sunk 16-of-31.

“In the league opener on the road, you have to make your free throws, and we didn’t do it tonight. That came back to bite us as well,” Braswell said.

CSUN’s effort didn’t go unnoticed as it is still receiving votes in the Mid-Major poll.

Quick hitters
UC Riverside (3-10, 0-1) nearly had its first win over a Division I opponent since Dec. 1, but Cal Poly’s Kyle Odister ended those hopes when he led the Mustangs’ (5-6, 1-0) second-half comeback. The Mustangs topped the Highlanders, 68-58, after erasing an 11-point deficit in the second half. Odister and Chris Harriel both finished with 11 apiece for the Highlanders … UC Irvine (7-7, 1-0) needed overtime to defeat UC Davis (4-8, 0-1). The Aggies dominated offensively, shooting 48.5 percent from the field with Corey Hawkins’ 21 points leading the way. But the Anteaters stayed strong on the glass and got a strong contribution from the bench. Adam Folker led the ‘Eaters with 15 points and 14 rebounds.