When Cal State Long Beach lost earlier in the season at Logan, Utah, 49er Coach Joe Harrington put much of the blame on the high altitude. As it turned out Saturday night, his 49ers couldn't handle Utah State at sea level either.
The Aggies stayed calm in the face of a pressure defense and a hostile packed crowd of 2,215 and breezed past Long Beach, 82-75, and into a first-place tie with Nevada Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.
Thus, the 49ers' six-game winning streak--they hadn't lost in four weeks--ended, as did their eight-game winning streak in their gym.
And instead of tying Utah State for second place, they fell to fourth with a 7-4 record. They are 13-7 overall.
"Their style is very conducive to ours," Utah State Coach Rod Tueller said. "The open-court game is really to our liking."
The Aggies made 24 turnovers but only 10 in the second half when they often broke free from harassing defenders for easy shots, most of which they made, while shooting 61%.
"The secret," Tueller said, "was the poise with which we handled their pressure."
Trailing 38-36 at halftime, Utah State (14-6, 9-2) scored 10 of the first 14 points of the second half and was never headed.
With 10:40 to play, Long Beach trailed only 58-56 but went the next 4:11 without scoring while Dan Conway scored five points for the Aggies.
That was pretty much the game, although three-point shots by John Hoffman and Rigo Moore brought the 49ers to within 78-75 with 31 seconds left.
"This is a resilient, poised bunch of kids,' Tueller said of his team. "You've got to get a shovel and hit them on the nose to win.'
The 49ers had no shovel, though one of their fans threw a dog bone. But that strategy backfired.
After Moore's three-pointer, the 49ers called a timeout, despite having none left. That technical foul put Conway on the line for two free throws. The dog bone hit his feet as he missed the first shot. The officials then gave him two more shots, which he made.
"We were really off tonight," Harrington said. "We didn't play our usual game."
The 49ers shot only 42% and were 48% from the foul line. They were also outrebounded, 40-34.
Conway led the Aggies with 24 points. Morlon Wiley led the 49ers with 22 points and 8 assists.