Long Beach State's Larry Anderson, left, and Creighton's Grant… (Eric Francis / Getty Images )
Long Beach State's ride to this year's NCAA tournament hit a bump last weekend when star guard Larry Anderson sprained his knee in the 49ers' loss to Cal State Fullerton.
It wrecked Long Beach's chances for a perfect 16-0 finish in league, all but rendered Anderson unavailable for this week's Big West tournament and gave life to teams hoping to snatch the conference's automatic NCAA bid.
The impact of the injury to Anderson, the Big West defensive player of the year, adds intrigue to what most considered Long Beach's tournament to lose.
Anderson's absence, some say, will make the 49ers more motivated. "A loss for as good a team as they are gets their attention," first-year UC Davis Coach Jim Les said.
Long Beach Coach Dan Monson, who has started the same five players all season, isn't so sure. "I've never thought any loss was good," he said.
Freshman Mike Caffey, who scored 20 points off the bench against Fullerton, probably moves into the starting lineup, with Big West player of the year Casper Ware moving to shooting guard.
Top-seeded Long Beach (22-8) opens Big West play against No. 8 UC Davis (5-25) in a 6 p.m. game Thursday. The tournament starts at noon with UC Santa Barbara facing Pacific, followed by Fullerton against UC Irvine. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UC Riverside play 30 minutes after the finish of the Long Beach-Davis game.
Fullerton versus Irvine might be the first day's most entertaining matchup. Fullerton swept the series by scores of 92-84 and 100-94. "Neither one of us had any idea how to stop the other," Fullerton Coach Bob Burton said.
Titans guard D.J. Seeley was 10 for 10 on three-pointers in the two games. "That may be an NCAA record," Irvine Coach Russell Turner said. "I don't know if that's ever been done before."
Santa Barbara has won the last two Big West tournament titles and last year shocked Long Beach in the title game. The Gauchos are led by Orlando Johnson, who averages 20.0 points per game, and James Nunnally, who averages 15.9 points.
Long Beach, led by Ware, has plenty of punch without Anderson, but isn't very deep. Monson stuck mostly to a seven-man rotation.
Despite playing the nation's toughest nonconference schedule, the 49ers cannot count on earning an at-large bid if they don't win the Big West tournament. Long Beach defeated Pittsburgh and Xavier this year and lost hard-fought games against North Carolina, Kansas and San Diego State.
The NCAA selection committee, though, might frown on two Big West losses in the span of a week.
"Our job this week is not to be in position for an at-large bid," Monson said. "Our job is to go win this tournament."