GAMES NOTES: The Big West leading Long Beach State 49ers kick off a three-game road trip to close out the season when they square off with the UC Irvine Anteaters in league action at Bren Events Center.
Saturday's contest is a big one for Long Beach State which can capture the Big West regular season crown with a win. If the 49ers can accomplish that feat they will be the first team to win three straight regular season conference titles since UNLV took seven straight from 1982-89. Long Beach State is 17-10 overall this season with a 13-2 mark against league foes. Up next the 49ers take on UC Davis.
UC Irvine is battling for the second seed in the Big West Tournament. The Anteaters are 9-6 in league play which has them within two games of four other teams in the league standings with just three games left on the schedule. The Anteaters are also one of three teams in the league with at least 16 wins (16-13) overall. The Anteaters wrap up the season with a two-game road trip with dates against Pacific and UC Davis.
If the first meeting this season between these teams is any indication, Long Beach State will have an easy time capturing the conference title. The 49ers rolled to an 81-59 victory and have now won five straight games against the Anteaters to improve their record to 57-33 in the all-time series.
The 49ers had won four straight games before the BracketBusters matchup with Stephen A. Austin last time out. Long Beach State was handed a 68-60 defeat in the contest as it allowed the Lumberjacks to shoot a blistering 72.2 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes.
Though it has the best record in the conference this season the 49ers actually have a negative scoring margin (-0.1). They are scoring 70.1 points per game while shooting just under 45 percent from the floor. However the 49ers are struggling to work as a team on the offensive end as they are last in the conference in assists (12.1 pg). James Ennis (17.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) shoots 49.2 percent from the field ranking in the top 10 in points, rebounds and blocks among conference players. Michael Caffey (12.1 ppg, 3.9 apg) is the primary ball handler. Tony Freeland (10.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) missed a bulk of the early season but has been a solid scorer in the frontcourt in the 16 games he has played.
In its BracketBusters showdown with Texas-Arlington, UC Irvine earned a 77-70 victory for its fourth straight victory. The Anteaters really turned it on in the second period when they shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes. Adam Folker and Will Davis II each scored 16 points to lead five players in double figures.
There is a bit more balance on the offensive end for UC Irvine which has six different players scoring at least eight points per game. Daman Starring (13.6 ppg) is the only double-figure scorer among those players and he has scored in double figures in five of the last six games. Michael Wilder (8.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.1 apg) is a versatile player but he has shot just 34.8 percent from the field. Folker (9.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Davis (8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg) are solid on the frontcourt for the Big West's top rebounding squad (39.1 ppg). In fact the Anteaters are within the top 25 teams in the country in rebounds. The Anteaters are also among the top 25 teams in the country in assists (16.2 pg).
There's something on the line for both of these teams in this bout. UC Irvine is fighting for positioning in the postseason, while Long Beach State looks to continue its dominance in the Big West. Expect the 49ers to do just that on Saturday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Long Beach State 72, UC Irvine 64
03/02 10:33:58 ET
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