After earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with its win in the Big West Conference (BWC) Tournament finals, the Long Beach State (LBSU) men’s basketball team drew a No. 12 seed and will play No. 5 seed University of New Mexico (UNM) at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore., this Thursday in the second round of March Madness.
The 49ers (25-8) advance to the tournament for the ninth time in school history and the first since 2007.
LBSU Coach Dan Monson will be taking his third different team to the NCAA Tournament. He led Gonzaga to the Elite Eight in 1999 and took Minnesota to the first round in 2005.
Defense should be the name of the game in its opening game of the tourney Thursday. The 49ers led the Big West, limiting their opponents to just 63.6 points per game, but the Lobos were even better, limiting their opposing offenses to just 59.1 points per game. LBSU held opponents to 41.9 percent shooting while UNM limited opponents to 38 percent.
Drew Gordon, the Mountain West Tournament MVP, leads New Mexico averaging 13.4 points per game. Lobo teammate Kendall Williams adds 12 points per game, and Tony Snell chips in 11 points. UNM averaged 73.2 points per game compared to LBSU’s 74.
The 49ers and Lobos have met five times in the history of the programs with UNM leading the series 3-2. The two teams haven’t met since Nov. 29, 1986, when the Lobos won 92-88. LBSU’s last win came on Dec. 20, 1982, when the 49ers won 98-95. Dan Monson is 1-0 all-time against New Mexico.
The winner of the Long Beach State-New Mexico game will play the winner of No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 13 seed Davidson on Saturday. The 49ers played at Louisville on Nov. 28, losing 79-66. LBSU trailed by just five with less than seven minutes to play, but the Cardinals clinched the game at the free throw line late.
The Louisville game was one of eight the 49ers played against teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament field. LBSU faced No. 1 seed North Carolina, No. 2 seed Kansas, No. 6 seed San Diego State, No. 8 seeds Kansas State and Creighton, No. 10 seed Xavier and No. 13 Montana.
The 49ers earned the BWC’s automatic bid after handing UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) a 77-64 loss in the championship game of the conference tournament Saturday night. It was a bit of payback for LBSU, considering it was UCSB who beat the 49ers in the finals of the conference tournament the previous two years, denying the 49ers a trip to the NCAA tourney.
In this year’s finals, Casper Ware, the two-time conference player of the year, earned tournament MVP honors after scoring a team-high 33 points in the championship game on Saturday night at the Honda Center. The 5-foot-10 point guard led Long Beach State to its second straight regular-season title this season averaging 17.4 points per game while handing out 108 assists.
“It’s been a four-year process to get here and any road you travel you always want it to be shorter than it actually is,” Monson said. “I told Cas (Ware) earlier in the week, ‘You know, I’ve got good feelings. Anytime I’ve gone to the NCAA Tournament, my best player has taken me there. And I can’t get it out of my mind that you’re going to do that this week,’ and he had this look and it was contagious. It was a look that said we’re going to do this.”
James Ennis, an all-tournament selection, added 15 points and four rebounds. Edis Dervisevic made his first start of the season and responded with a career-high nine rebounds, while matching his career high with five assists.
It was a week of season awards for LBSU, but especially Ware. In addition to the tournament MVP, he also was named the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) District IX Player of the Year earlier in the week.
The day before that, all five 49er starters earned Big West all-conference honors for the year. In fact, Ware, Larry Anderson and Monson made it a clean sweep for LBSU for the second year in a row.
Ware earned Big West Conference Player of the Year honors for the second straight season, while Anderson claimed Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year recognition, and Monson won his second straight Big West Conference Coach of the Year award.
The three major awards highlighted a banner day for the 49ers as all five starters earned all-league recognition. Ware and Anderson were joined on the first team by T.J. Robinson. Eugene Phelps claimed second-team all-league honors, and James Ennis claimed honorable mention accolades.
It is the first time since 2005 that three players from the same team have earned first-team All-Big West honors when Pacific had three first-team honorees. It is the second straight season that Long Beach State has placed five players on the all-league team. Last year, Ware and Anderson were named first-team all-league, while Robinson was a second-team pick and Phelps and Greg Plater claimed honorable mention honors.
The 49ers finished the regular season 22-8 (15-1 Big West) despite playing the toughest non-conference schedule in the country. LBSU has had back-to-back 20-win seasons under Monson, the first time 49er teams have done that since 1972-73 and 1973-74. The coach of the year award is the third for Monson.
But, that was last week. Now, Monson and the 49ers are focused on their opening-round NCAA tournament contest on Thursday against UNM in Oregon.