The season didn’t go as expected, but the finals of the Big West tournament still managed to pit the two preseason favorites against one another. Long Beach State won the regular-season title, while UC Santa Barbara struggled to a fifth-place finish. Prior to the tournament, LBSU head coach Dan Monson told CBSSports.com that his player “know they have to go through Santa Barbara” to win the title. Despite the twists and turns of the league season, Monson was right.
Long Beach State (22-10, 14-2) has won 17 of its last 19 games after starting the season 5-8 against a very difficult non-conference schedule. The 49ers started playing their best basketball towards the end of the season, winning eight of their last 10 games by double-figures. In the quarterfinals, they needed a second-half comeback to beat UC Irvine, but they scored the first 15 points against UC Riverside in the semifinals to advance easily.
The 49ers like to push the ball and get to the basket in transition. They draw fouls at a high rate and are effective from inside the arc. Defensively, LBSU is disciplined and controls the glass. They allow too many open shots though. Casper Ware is the team’s top scorer, but five players average in double-figures. Ware is heating up lately, dropping at least 21 points in six of his last 10 games. Larry Anderson is the team’s heart and soul, while T.J. Robinson is a double-double man.
UC Santa Barbara (17-13, 8-8) was blown out by Long Beach State at home in the conference opener, setting the stage for a disappointing league campaign. The Gauchos came in as the preaseason favorite, but dropped all the way to fifth after losing three of their final four games overall. They clearly played to their potential, beating Pacific and Cal State Northridge by a combined 32 points.
The Gauchos are a very solid offensive team, capable of beating a defense from inside or outside the arc. They are highly accurate from the free-throw line and can get hot from deep. Defensively, they defend the paint effectively but gamble too much. Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally comprise the league’s best duo; UCSB lives and dies by their go-to tandem. Johnson is arguably the best player in the Big West. He scored 62 points in the first two games of the tourney.
Long Beach State easily won both of the meetings between these two teams, by 16 at UCSB and then by 18 at home in late February. The 49ers forced Orlando Johnson into tough shooting nights, as he went just 12-for-34 in the two games. Long Beach State guards the 3-point line well, which is where the Gauchos like to do most of their damage. On the other side, USCB has to keep Long Beach State off the glass and off the free-throw line.
UC-Santa Barbara might have the best player and the best duo in the conference, but Long Beach State has had the Gauchos’ number this season. Can the 49ers beat UCSB for a third time? Given the inside-outside balance that Long Beach State possesses, it’s not far-fetched. They have the defensive length to cause problems for Orlando Johnson – if he struggles, UC-Santa Barbara has no chance.
Photo: US Presswire
Posted by Jeff Borzello
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