Utah State figures it will keep its first national ranking in over three decades as long as it continues to win in the Big West Conference. The Aggies had no trouble holding up their end Thursday night against Cal State Northridge.
Point guard Mark Brown scored a career-high 25 points as the 19th-ranked Aggies extended their school-record winning streak to 17 games with a 69-47 victory in front of 1,411 at Northridge.
Utah State, which improved to 20-1 overall and 12-0 in the conference, stayed one game ahead of second-place Pacific, where the Aggies play Saturday night. The Aggies quickly removed any hopes of a Northridge upset by dominating the Matadors from the outset.
"Other than turnovers, we did what we had to do," Utah State Coach Stew Morrill said. "We set the tone in the first half with real solid defense and a big rebounding margin. When we were able to get a shot up, we executed pretty well."
After Northridge grabbed a 4-0 lead, Brown scored nine points to spark a 17-4 run for the Aggies. Utah State would extend its lead to 34-13 by making eight straight shots while holding Northridge without a point for nearly five minutes.
Nate Harris had 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Aggies. Eto Onyenegecha scored 12 points and Thomas Shewmake had 11 for Northridge (9-11, 5-7), but leading scorer Ian Boylan had only two on one-for-13 shooting.
Northridge shot only 32.7% despite forcing an uncharacteristic season-high 26 turnovers by the Aggies, who shot 63% from the field.
"Our defense was there, but our offense wasn't," Boylan said. "Shots that usually fall didn't. If you play defense and rebound, you'll have a chance but you're gonna have to make some shots."
Cal State Fullerton 70, UC Irvine 63 -- Freshman guard Bobby Brown broke out of a month-long shooting slump by making six of nine three-point shots as part of a 24-point scoring barrage to lead the host Titans to their second consecutive Big West victory.
Anthony Bolton had 13 and Yaphett King had 11 for the Titans (8-12, 4-7), who handed Irvine (9-12, 4-8) its sixth consecutive loss.
Adam Parada (16 points), Greg Ethington (12) and Jeff Gloger (10) scored in double figures for the Anteaters, who shot 56.8% from the field but committed a season-high 27 turnovers.
Brown, who came into the game averaging 12.3 points, is on pace to become the highest-scoring true freshman in Fullerton's 30-year history at the Division I level. But he recently lost his starting job after going four consecutive halves without a point. He had managed only 21 points in his last four outings but scored that many in the second half Thursday.
Consecutive three-pointers by Brown erased a four-point Irvine lead and gave Fullerton a 49-47 lead with 9:22 left.
The Anteaters rallied for a 55-49 lead, but Brown fueled a Titan comeback with another pair of three-pointers. Still another Brown three-pointer with 1:33 left broke a 61-61 tie and Fullerton never trailed again.
Loyola Marymount 66, Santa Clara 48 -- The Lions played strong defense in the second half against the Broncos, who were held to fewer than 50 points for only the second time this season in a West Coast Conference game at Loyola Marymount.
Sherman Gay had 18 points, Wes Wardrop had 11 and Charles Brown had 10 for Loyola Marymount (12-11, 3-7), but the key was a defense that held Santa Clara (13-12, 5-5) to 18 points on seven-for-29 shooting (24.1%) in the second half.
"Our guys showed the grit and mental toughness you need to win a league game," Lion Coach Steve Aggers said. "We were playing them too tight in the first half, we were too concerned about taking away their three-point shots."
Santa Clara, which had averaged 65.9 points this season, attempted 45 three-point shots in a Feb. 7 victory over San Diego. Thursday, the Broncos attempted only 16. They were four for eight in the first half and 0 for 8 in the second.
Loyola Marymount trailed, 30-25, at halftime but used a 20-6 run during the middle of the second half to take a 51-40 lead and control of the game.
It is the first time Loyola Marymount has reached the 12-victory plateau in eight years and with four regular-season games left, the Lions are eyeing their first winning season since 1996.
"At the beginning of the season you have goals, but I think any team worth a salt readjusts their goals as the season goes on," Aggers said. "Right now our goals are a winning season and gaining some momentum going into the [WCC] tournament."
UC Riverside 77, Long Beach State 75 -- Vili Morton had 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Highlanders blew an 18-point lead but held on to defeat the 49ers in a Big West game at Riverside.
The Highlanders (7-12, 4-7), who have defeated the 49ers (6-15, 4-8) four consecutive times, led, 42-34, at the half and extended the lead to 58-40 with 14:31 left.
An 8-0 run over the next 2:17 and an 8-2 run with 2:25 left got the 49ers to 73-69.