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COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Long Beach State wins, but it isn't easy

UC Irvine puts up a fight before losing, 79-72, in first round of the Big West tournament. 49ers will face UC Riverside in semifinals.

March 10, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Long Beach State guard Casper Ware, right, tries to drive around UC Irvine guard Patrick Rembert during the second half of the 49ers' 79-72 victory at the Big West tournament on Thursday.
Long Beach State guard Casper Ware, right, tries to drive around UC Irvine… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

Casper Ware, hobbling from a leg cramp, dribbled out the final seconds, tossing the ball high in relief at the buzzer.

Enough was finally enough for Long Beach State.

The 49ers, the Big West Conference's regular-season champions, labored through their conference tournament opener, surviving for a 79-72 victory over UC Irvine. Ware scored 23 points but limped through the final two minutes at Honda Center.

"You have to give our kids credit," Coach Dan Monson said. "They are coming back tomorrow. We didn't know if that would happen a half-hour ago. But we're back."

And, Monson hopes, better after a first-round game that nearly became a pratfall.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," Monson said. "It's tough being the hunted. We've been that all year. But it's different when there are seven hunters instead of one."

Irvine (13-19) nearly got that pelt.

The Anteaters led, 63-62, with four minutes left and didn't have to contend with Ware for two minutes.

Ware, the conference's player of the year, left because of a cramp after sinking a three-pointer for a 65-63 lead. When he returned, he pushed the 49ers to the finish. His 10-foot jumper gave Long Beach a 74-70 lead. He then found Larry Anderson up court for a three-point play — a layup and a foul shot — that finally put the Anteaters in the rearview mirror.

Long Beach (21-10), which has won 10 consecutive games, plays seventh-seeded UC Riverside on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

"It's March," Monson said. "We expected a good basketball game today. We expect to have two more and we expect to win them."

Such great expectations would put the 49ers in the NCAA tournament. Yet, they will need to be a little sharper than they were on Thursday.

Long Beach clinched the conference's regular-season title Feb. 26 and had played only once in 10 days since.

"I think layoffs this time of year are a good thing," Monson said. "I think they're fresh." But, he conceded, "That's probably a better question for the players."

Anderson immediately jumped in and said, "I think it had an effect."

Said Monson: "Shows what I know."

Whether it was the layoff, the bigger arena or Irvine's defense — or all three — the 49ers shot 32% in the first half and turned the ball over five times during one four-minute stretch.

Irvine, led by Eric Wise (19 points), had a 57-51 lead with eight minutes left.

"Our team was anxious to play against someone else," Ware said. "We have been battling each other in practice the past week. We came out and tried to do too much."

In the end, they did enough. Ware had 12 points in the second half. Anderson scored 13 of his 18 points in the second, including the 49ers' final five points.

In other first-round games:

UC Santa Barbara 79, Pacific 67: Orlando Johnson had 32 points as the Gauchos (16-13) took control of the game early. Johnson made 11 of 19 shots. Santa Barbara shot 57% from the field. Allen Huddleston had 21 points for Pacific (16-15).

UC Riverside 70, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 66 (OT): Kareem Nitoto scored 23 points, as the Highlanders (12-18) upset the second-seeded Mustangs (15-15). Nitoto scored on a layup and was fouled with 14 seconds left, his free throw giving Riverside a 68-66 lead.

Cal State Northridge 75, Cal State Fullerton 54: Northridge (14-17) jumped out to a 14-2 lead and never looked back. Fullerton (11-20) went the first eight minutes without a field goal. Lenny Daniel had 19 points to lead Northridge.

chris.foster@latimes.com

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