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BIG WEST MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Resurgent Riverside Tops San Luis Obispo

March 11, 2004|Paul McLeod; Eric Stephens | From Staff Reports

The decision to redshirt center Vili Morton last season so he could gain an extra year of experience has finally begun to pay dividends for UC Riverside.

The 6-foot-8 junior scored 16 points, had 14 rebounds and slowed down counterpart Varnie Dennis for the first time Wednesday in three meetings, as the resurgent Highlanders beat Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 72-63, in the opening round of the Big West Conference men's basketball tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center.

It was the first Division I conference tournament victory for Riverside (11-16, 8-11) in its first year of eligibility since moving up a level three years ago. The Highlanders face Idaho tonight at 8:30 in the second round.

Riverside rested near the bottom of the conference standings with a five-game losing streak after a Feb. 7 loss at Cal State Fullerton. But it has won five of its last nine games, and three of its last four, since that time. A lot of that has to do with the maturation of Morton, playing despite a sore right foot. On Wednesday, his two free throws, layin, subsequent tip-in and steal were all part of a sequence that helped Riverside take a 62-51 lead following a three-pointer by guard Ted Bell with 2:32 left in the game.

Dennis scored 14 points and had 15 rebounds for San Luis Obispo (11-16, 6-13), but that was far from his 31-point performance in a 97-95 victory at Riverside on Feb. 26 that completed a series sweep.

"I played terrible defense on him during the season," Morton said. "He owned me until this point."

Nate Carter added 19 points and Rickey Porter had 16 for Riverside. Shane Schilling had 13 points for San Luis Obispo.

Paul McLeod

*

Cal State Northridge 80, Cal State Fullerton 70 -- Northridge was embarrassed five days ago in front of its home crowd in its regular-season finale against Fullerton. In a conference tournament first-round rematch, that defeat was all the motivation the Matadors needed.

Ian Boylan scored a career-high 31 points in leading sixth-seeded Northridge to a surprisingly easy victory at the Anaheim Convention Center. The Matadors will take on third-seeded UC Santa Barbara in tonight's quarterfinals.

Seventh-seeded Fullerton came into the tournament full of confidence after a 95-70 win at Northridge on Saturday. But the Titans (11-17) would come unglued under the hot shooting of Boylan.

The junior guard took in all the aggressiveness from Fullerton players and threw in shot after shot. Boylan made 11 of 19 shots from the field and added five rebounds and three assists.

Northridge (12-15) also got a big game from guard Joseph Frazier, who scored 20 points on six of seven shots in his third game since his return from an 11-game suspension. Guard Davin White added 18 points as the Matadors shot 52.8% in all.

The Matadors blew open the game with a 16-6 run early in the second half, capped by a Frazier dunk after White dived for a loose ball and got it to the streaking junior guard.

Northridge made eight of its first 11 shots in building an early 22-12 lead, with Frazier and White combining for 15 of those points.

Pape Sow drew his third foul with 5:33 left in the first half, but the Titans stayed close behind the shooting of freshman guard Bobby Brown. Brown drilled two three-pointers and had 12 points in the opening 20 minutes.

Sow finished with 21 points and four rebounds in his final college game, while Brown added 16 points.

-- Eric Stephens

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