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Old friends to face off in Long Beach State vs. New Mexico

The 49ers' Dan Monson and the Lobos' Steve Alford bonded as coaches of struggling Big 10 teams. Their current squads are up-tempo, and Long Beach State's Larry Anderson says he plans to play.

March 11, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson reacts to a call during an 81-79 loss to NCAA-bound Creighton in Omaha, Neb., last month.
Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson reacts to a call during an 81-79 loss to… (Eric Francis / Getty Images )

These are days that can add a little stress on a friendship.

Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson was still giddy from winning the Big West Conference tournament Saturday when a text message arrived from his buddy, New Mexico Coach Steve Alford.

Both left the cornfields for greener pastures.

"He sent me a text Saturday, 'saw your score, congratulations, praying we don't draw you,' " Monson said.

There's that old saying that every prayer gets answered … but sometimes the answer is "no."

Long Beach and New Mexico converge on Portland on Thursday in a NCAA West Regional game. It's a chance for former Big 10 coaches — Monson at Minnesota and Alford at Iowa — to catch up, and an opportunity for Long Beach to see whether its abattoir-like schedule was worth the trip.

The 12th-seeded 49ers (25-8) played at North Carolina, Kansas and Louisville this season now get the fifth-seeded Lobos (27-6).

"I don't know if 'happy' is the right word," Monson said. "But I am excited. Both of us have up-tempo teams. There are going to be 10 great athletes on that floor."

The question is whether Long Beach's Larry Anderson will be among them.

Anderson suffered a strained right knee against Cal State Fullerton on March 3 and missed the 49ers' three-game run to the Big West Conference tournament championship.

Anderson is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14 points, and was also named the conference's defensive player of the year.

"I highly doubt I will be 100%, but I will be really close," Anderson said.

Monson said that "it is one of those injuries where we won't know how he can play until he gets out there. We're not going to jeopardize his career."

Anderson has been jogging and doing "full court dribbling" the last two days.

"It sore, but it's a good sore, not irritating," Anderson said. "It's sore because I have probably been doing a little too much on it. Hopefully by the end of the week it will be fine."

Missing Thursday's game, Anderson said, wasn't an option.

"We're a 12th seed going against a five, we're staying on the West Coast," Anderson said. "I couldn't have asked for anything more."

Long Beach has eight losses, but seven were to teams that reached the NCAA tournament. North Carolina is a No. 1 seeded team, Kansas a No. 2 and Louisville a No. 4. Toss in Creighton or San Diego State as a gutty-little-underdog and you have a decent Final Four.

A second shot at Louisville looms, as the Cardinals and 49ers could meet Saturday in the third round. Louisville won the first game, 79-66.

"We got off to a bad start and their crowd really go into it," Anderson said. "On a neutral court, we can do better."

First comes New Mexico, though Anderson said that being a 12th-seeded team "makes me happy." In the last 23 years, 21 teams seeded 12th have won at least one game.

"They're solid, but we are playing a really, really good team, not an elite team," Anderson said.

All Monson knows is it is an Alford team. He faced enough of those when he was at Minnesota from 1999 to 2006. Alford, who was at Iowa from 1999 to 2007, had a 7-4 record against Monson's Minnesota teams.

The two grew close.

"It was kind of misery-loves-company," Monson said. "We both took over struggling programs. He would call me and tell me all the bad things that were going on and I would be able to top it."

Monson would like to top him one more time.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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