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Long Beach State advances to Big West final

The 49ers beat UC Riverside, 74-63, and will play for the conference championship Saturday at Honda Center.

March 11, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Long Beach State guard Greg Plater, left, battles UC Riverside forward B.J. Shearry for a loose ball during the first half of the 49ers' 74-63 victory in the Big West tournament semifinals on Friday.
Long Beach State guard Greg Plater, left, battles UC Riverside forward… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

Total rehabilitation is one victory away.

A four-year journey for Long Beach State senior Greg Plater can end at a once far-off destination Saturday night at Honda Center.

The 49ers survived UC Riverside, and themselves, for a 74-63 victory in the Big West Conference tournament semifinals Friday. They can qualify for the NCAA tournament with a victory Saturday night against the winner of Friday's late game between UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge.

That moment was made possible even though the 49ers (22-10) flirted with squandering a 20-point second-half lead against Riverside. The Highlanders (12-19) pulled to within six with two minutes left, but Long Beach made five of six free throws in the last 46 seconds.

"We are a really good team and we can be a really great team if we can get that out of our system," 49ers Coach Dan Monson said. "We get ahead and we start playing the score instead of the next play."

The 49ers now will look to their next game.

Long Beach last made the NCAA tournament in 2007. That was followed by the firing of Coach Larry Reynolds and three years on NCAA probation.

Monson was hired and his first recruit was Plater. They debuted together and were spanked, 74-34, by Brigham Young in the 2007-08 season opener.

"After that game, I had to wonder what I had gotten into," said Plater, who had 17 points Friday. "We have all grown so much together. The type of players Coach was bringing in, you could tell we were going to be OK.

Long Beach finished 6-25 their first season. Monson told Long Beach officials when he was hired, "We're going to get hammered the first season. But we need to go out and find some good high school kids and build a foundation here and not have a revolving door."

That foundation cracked a little at times Friday but was solid when needed.

Long Beach scored the first 15 points. Riverside had twice as many turnovers (eight) as field goals (four) through the first 10 minutes.

The 49ers led, 40-28, at halftime.

"It's real hard to end a team's season, a team that has character," Monson said. "That's what makes March Madness."

Or March maddening, at times. Long Beach led 56-36, then lurched to the finish.

Plater made five of six three-point shots. Larry Anderson, a junior, finished with a game-high 21 points. Junior Casper Ware went without a field goal in the first half but finished with 16 points.

"We've come a long way in four years," Plater said. "We still have a long way to go."

One game, anyway.

UC Santa Barbara 83, Cal State Northridge 63: Orlando Johnson scored 30 points to lead the Gauchos (17-13) into the title game.

chris.foster@latimes.com

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