Long Beach State at California-Riverside (Big West)
UCR Rec Center - Riverside, CA
11:00 PM EST
Don't worry, we'll be doing plenty of breakdown of Dayton-Xavier
tomorrow (or you can get a very fine BBSU-aided preview here
). But one league we haven't talked about too much this season is the Big West, a conference we'll be paying a visit to next week during our annual California swing. With a two-bid year in 2005, three NCAA wins since the century began, and only one seeding in that timeframe below No. 14 (WAC-departed Utah State's No. 15 in 2003), it's a little small this time around. Each BWC member is hovering around .500 overall, and the only Red Line win the league claimed was newest member UC Davis' November victory over Tulane of C-USA
. The teams out there would probably just as well we give them the year off from coverage.
There are some nice stories way out west, however. Take, for instance, the resurgence of Long Beach State -- after a 24-8 NCAA campaign stained with recruiting oddities and a second-half quit in the Tournament
against Tennessee, Don Monson came in and presided over a 6-25 disaster that could best be described as a "pre
-building" year. This season has been far more kind: the 49ers have doubled that win total and are a candidate for the nation's top turnaround. At 7-3 in the Big West, Long Beach looks like the NCAA-caliber team, playing the best field-goal defense in the conference (40.9 percent allowed in league games) and providing a showcase for 6-3 former Fresno State transfer Donovan Morris.
He's team-tops with 15.6 ppg, including 85 percent from the line. But the senior leader is fighting an injury to his right foot
, and the 49ers' recent struggles (three straight home losses) coincide with this. Without Morris, however, LBSU pulled out a stirring 81-80 double-overtime victory
over Pacific last Saturday.
Tonight, the Niners will hit the road to play the surprise overall win leaders of the conference. UC Riverside (13-9, 5-5) is still in its first decade of Division I life, and the Highlanders have already earned more wins than in any of their previous nine. A big reason why UCR will break a string of three straight 20-loss seasons is hot 3-point shooting -- since Big West play began, Jim Wooldridge's group has shot 44 percent from behind the new arc, and three members of the regular rotation are shooting better than 40 percent from long distance. But if you want to put a face on this team, consider Kyle Austin
, a 6-7 specimen who transfered in from USC and became eligible at the semester break. He's leading the Highlanders with 16.3 ppg and has become increasingly confident on the boards. He notched his first collegiate double-double at Fullerton two weeks ago
, and is averaging 9.66 rpg over his last three games. And UCR has already beaten the league leaders, an impressive 64-55 win
down at the Pyramid on Jan. 24. A win tonight would help the fourth-place 'Landers jump into better position for a good tourney seed when the conference convenes in Anaheim next month.Basketball State Preview/Box