Long Beach State never imagined playing the role of spoiler at the start of the season. But the 49ers are embracing it now.
The 49ers ended UC Irvine's pursuit of first place in the Big West Conference on Thursday by dealing the Anteaters their worst loss of the season, 86-70, before 2,624 at the Pyramid in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Irvine (20-9 overall) finished with a 13-5 conference record and will be the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament next week in Anaheim. It means the Anteaters will face these same 49ers in the first round. Long Beach (13-16, 9-9) will be the seventh seed.
"The way we played against them tonight ... " Irvine Coach Pat Douglass said. "There was a lot at stake. We practice hard. We played hard. They were just better than us."
Forward Kevin Roberts had a career-high 27 points and added seven rebounds.
Guard Ron Johnson and forward Travis Reed, seniors playing their final home game, added 20 and 19 points, respectively.
Long Beach shot 54.2% from the field and outscored Irvine, 46-31, in the second half. Roberts sparked a 15-2 run early in the second half with 10 points and the Anteaters could get no closer than nine.
"Kevin Roberts was unbelievable tonight," Long Beach Coach Wayne Morgan said. "Travis was his usual steady dominating self and Ron Johnson played 34 minutes without any turnovers."
The 49ers are the league's hottest team. They have won five in a row and seven of nine.
Jordan Harris led Irvine with 29 points and Jerry Green added 25.
Cal State Northridge 63, Idaho 46--Senior center Jermar Welch scored 12 of his 16 points on dunks and the Matadors (11-15, 10-7) defeated the Vandals (9-17, 6-11) before 1,081 at Northridge.
The 6-foot-7 Welch and the Matadors capitalized repeatedly on a size advantage, beating the Vandals' three-guard lineup inside to take control of the game early with a 24-11 lead.
"I wanted to win," Welch said. "I was just trying my best to win. You've got to give credit to my teammates. They hit me at the right time, right place."
With one regular-season game left against first-place Utah State on Saturday, Northridge remained in a three-way tie for third place in the conference with Pacific and Santa Barbara.
Senior forward Rodney Hilaire led Idaho with 13 points.
UC Santa Barbara 54, Cal State Fullerton 52--Jacoby Atako made two free throws and had a steal in the final 10 seconds as the Gauchos (16-10, 10-7) defeated the Titans (4-22, 1-16) before 1,855 at Santa Barbara.
Titan guard Ryan Dillon had tied the score at 52 with 29 seconds left on his seventh three-pointer.
Branduinn Fullove led Santa Barbara with 13 points.
Dillon, seven of 10 from three-point range, had a game-high 22 points for Fullerton.
Cal Poly SLO 90, Riverside 65--Varnie Dennis had 18 points as the Mustangs (15-10, 9-8) used a 21-5 first-half run to beat the Highlanders (8-17, 5-12) before 2,879 at San Luis Obispo.
Mark Miller led Riverside with 17 points.