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Long Beach State prepared for sprint

The 49ers are ninth in the nation in scoring at 80.3 points a game. In a first-round game, they play a Tennessee team that is 11th in that category at 79.7.

March 16, 2007|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

COLUMBUS, OHIO — Long Beach State and Tennessee are playing basketball here today in the first round of the South Regional at Nationwide Arena, but they are expecting a track meet.

So are oddsmakers, who have placed the over/under line -- the total number of points expected in the game -- at 170. That's 16 points higher than any other first-round game this year.

The 35-second clock has no place in this game, which pits teams that aren't afraid to shoot -- quickly. Tennessee is averaging 79.7 points a game, which ranks 11th in the nation. Long Beach State, which led the nation in scoring last year, is ninth at 80.3.

Those numbers aren't exactly reminiscent of early-1990s Loyola Marymount, but they do make one thing perfectly clear to those who are playing the game: This will not be a defensive struggle.

"I think we're going to have a hard time stopping them, so we better score," Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said. "I think both teams have demonstrated that they like transition basketball."

And just because it's the NCAA tournament, when teams normally try to boost defensive intensity, don't expect either team to waver much from their up-tempo style.

"That's what got us here," Long Beach State Coach Larry Reynolds said. "If you try to change something in two or three days, your kids aren't going to be very comfortable with it. It might look good in practice, but you throw it out there in a game and it could be crazy."

In other words, bombs away, because these teams both do a good chunk of that scoring from beyond the three-point arch.

Tennessee (22-10) made 286 of 812 three-point attempts, an average of almost nine makes in more than 25 attempts a game. Long Beach State (24-7) made 261 of 707, an average of 8.4 makes in almost 23 attempts a game.

They seem to be mirror images, both employing undersized but agile post players.

Defense is where they differ. Tennessee uses a relentless full-court press in an attempt to create fast-break opportunities.

"Coach wants us to put the fast back in fast break," said Chris Lofton, the Volunteers' leading scorer. "That's what we're trying to do, that's our game right there."

Long Beach State attempts to pressure the ball in the half court to create transition offense. The 49ers have not faced a full-court press, so to prepare they have been running their offense in five-on-six and five-on-seven drills.

They are also hoping that their five senior starters will help them stay poised under the pressure.

"Composure is one of our strengths," said 49ers leading scorer Aaron Nixon. "We have eight senior leaders on the team so there is no way we're going to rattle."

Tennessee has a different kind of experience: They played in the tournament last year. Dane Bradshaw, the only senior starter for the Volunteers, said that may be more important than having seniors.

"You hate to play such an experienced team," he said. "But right now we're the team that's been here before so we need to act like it."

peter.yoon@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

49ers matchups

A look at Long Beach State's first-round tournament game against Tennessee:

*--* STARTERS LONG BEACH Ht. Wt. Stats Pos TENNESSEE Ht. Wt. Stats STATE Sterling Byrd 6-6 215 6.7 rpg F Dane 6-4 205 4.5 apg Bradshaw Dominique Ricks 6-6 222 63.3% F Wayne Chism 6-9 245 5.4 rpg FG Kejuan Johnson 6-4 195 15.3 G JaJuan Smith 6-2 196 15 ppg ppg Aaron Nixon 6-2 219 18.6 G Chris Lofton 6-2 200 20.6 ppg ppg Kevin Houston 5-10 180 4.4 apg G Ramar Smith 6-2 185 10.4 ppg RESERVES Mark Dawson 6-9 220 55.9% C/F Duke Crews 6-7 233 5.0 rpg FGs Louis Darby 6-5 210 5.3 ppg G/F Ryan 6-9 238 3.5 ppg Childress Artis Gant 6-3 217 84.2% G Josh Tabb 6-4 193 50% FG FTs

HOW THEY MATCH UP

*--*

* INSIDE -- Chism and Crews are bigger body types than any of the Long Beach regulars, and they should be able to bully their way around the paint. Expect Dawson, who had an outstanding Big West Conference tournament, to get more playing time than usual to combat Chism's height advantage. Byrd is the key for Long Beach. His quickness and leaping ability allow him to play much bigger than his height and he's second on the team in three-point shots, which forces bigger defenders to come outside and gives him the opportunity to drive past them.

* OUTSIDE -- There will be no shortage of outside shooting by either team. Tennessee averaged more than 25 three-point shots a game and Long Beach averages 23. The 49ers make a higher percentage, 36.9%-35.2%, but Lofton is an expert marksman from long range at 41.7%. He and JaJuan Smith are the two main gunners with 223 and 224 attempts, respectively, and they are the only Volunteers who have made more than 25 three-pointers. Long Beach has four players who have made more than 40: Nixon (77), Byrd (57), Johnson (55) and Houston (44).

* COACHING -- Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl has been to three NCAA tournaments, guiding No. 12 seeded Wisconsin Milwaukee to the Sweet 16 in 2005 and going 1-1 with Tennessee last year -- his first season after taking over a team that was a combined 29-31 over the previous two seasons. Larry Reynolds of Long Beach is making his first NCAA tournament appearance. He guided the 49ers to their first Big West title since 1995 but is working without a contract for next season.

* KEY -- Tennessee uses a relentless pressing defense, so Long Beach's guards will have to be on their games if they hope to compete. Their senior-heavy roster should help in the poise department, and if they take care of the ball it will be a high-scoring game that comes down to which team shoots better from three-point range.

* PREDICTION -- Tennessee 94, Long Beach State 81.

-- PETER YOON

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