NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Salt Lake City Practice

Long Beach State athletic director Bobby Smitheran on Thursday took partial credit for the team's Big West Tournament run that culminated with an NCAA Tournament automatic bid last week, saying he fired coach Dan Monson before the conference tournament in an effort to inspire the team. Speaking with reporters ahead of the No. 15 seed LBSU's first round game vs. No. 2 seed Arizona, which tips at 2:00 p.m. ET on CBS, Smitheran claimed he wanted no credit ... before taking credit ... for the unexpected late-season rally.

"My belief and hope is that by doing what I did and the timing of it, they would play inspired, and that's what they did," said Smitheran. "I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but it worked."

Long Beach State parted ways with Monson, its long-time coach of nearly two decades after the regular season but allowed him the courtesy to coach out the postseason. The team then won three games in three days in the Big West Tournament to secure the league's automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

"I don't have to answer anything I don't want to because I'm working for free today," quipped Monson on Wednesday in his pre-tournament presser. "Did you see the 'Seinfeld' [episode] when George was trying to get fired and couldn't lose his job, still going to work every day? That's me. I'm a Seinfeld episode going on right now in real life."

Monson and his LBSU team are 19.5-point underdogs to Arizona on Thursday, but his team has been one of the talks of the town leading into the NCAA Tournament because of the unique circumstance. Smitheran told the AP that the situation has been overblown, though, and even suggested that it was Monson's idea.

"I think this is really getting lost on people, that we agreed that a change in leadership was necessary," Smitheran said. "This was something Coach Monson brought to me."

Long Beach State finished 10-10 in regular-season conference play and lost its final five games before its run through the Big West Tournament. It enters the NCAA Tournament 21-14 and is making its first appearance in the Big Dance since 2012.