PUB WISDOM

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The Beach’s New Riverside Reality

Last-second Larry puts the Niners on ice.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, UC Riverside served as punching bag for the rest of the Big West conference, a walkover, a laughing stock. And Long Beach State, the program with arguably the best historical pedigree among Big West squads, was laughing right along with the rest. Honestly, who could blame them?

That was then. Now? Not so much.

Three up, three down — that’s Long Beach State’s new Riverside reality. The 49ers are Oh! for their last three against UCR, including  a Highlander home-and-away sweep last season and Riverside’s home squeaker on Saturday, a 69-67 overtime win.

Yeah, yeah, if the Niners had managed to shoot more than 60% from the charity stripe, they would’ve won easily. But guess what? They didn’t. Long Beach coach Dan Monson, no slouch when it comes to basketball insights, seems to think that the Wooldridge brand of hard-nosed play was so frustrating for his team that they had trouble settling down enough to convert at the free-throw line.

So it seems the Niners  — and the rest of the league — better adjust to the new Riverside reality, lest they suffer more frustration.

Larry Gurganious, the one-time Gonzaga reserve whose long and winding road landed him in Riverside with one year of eligibility, nailed his second buzzer-beating game-winner of the season when his spinning reverse lay-up went in with 1.2 seconds remaining in overtime.

I’m still not sure what to make of Larry. I’ve seen some flashes of brilliance from him in the games I’ve see live, but I’ve also seen a sometimes spacey player prone to mental mistakes. He’s proven that he’s capable of rising up to finish when given the opportunity. Pub Wisdom advises LG to get more aggressive in order to unleash his obvious athleticism even more. One exception: on the fast break, let someone else push the ball while you get in position for the finish. I think I might have better handles, and that’s saying something.

Pub Wisdom is savoring the start of the conference schedule, eager to see just how well the Highlanders size up against the rest of the Big West.  Next up at the  Student Rec Center, where the Highlanders boast an 11-game winning streak? The always-tough UCSB Gauchos. Pub Wisdom’s take? Bring that Isla Vista junk.

Pub Wisdom Predicts: UCR 73, UCSB 66

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Big West MVP = Kyle Austin? Axe somebody

MVP? Make it so.

MVP? Make it so.

I know that most folks are just sinking their teeth into the college football season, but college hoops is right around the corner. And it looks like the editors over at Athlon noticed Kyle Austin’s junior effort last season. I know that pre-season hype is basically worthless, but any longtime Highlander fans have got to enjoy this nonetheless. Athlon is projecting Austin as the Big West MVP. Nice. Bring on the double and triple teams. Drive and dish.

Also cool, Athlon picked the Highlanders to finish fourth in the Big West. Fourth place cool? Considering that the Highlanders have been picked dead last in just about every preseason poll going in the past few seasons, this is a nice bit of well earned respect.

Is this the year UCR punches its ticket to the Big Dance?

Highlander Hoops Release Schedule

 

"Where the hell is Berry College?!?"

"Where the hell is Berry College?!?"

Click here for a look at the 09-10 UC Riverside mens’ basketball schedule.

While it looks like the pendulum has swung back slightly, which will hopefully get the Highlanders’ SOS rating below 300, it appears Jim Wooldridge is still easing his squad into the nation’s top tier based on the competition he’s booked. There’s USC, which is legit on anyone’s schedule. But no other PAC10 teams? Really?

I, for one, am in the camp that believes that Wooldridge’s marked softening of UCR’s schedule last year was genius, letting the players get used to what it feels like to win. I figure we’re seeing a continuation of that strategy, which I find hard to fault.

Still, Pub Wisdom reckons there are others who are chomping for UCR to test it’s new-found success on some proven competition. Would’ve been nice to see a surprise or two on the schedule, especially since the USC date was pre-announced.  Well, there was one surprise. Where is Berry College and how did they end up on the Highlanders’ schedule? Now that was a surprise, though without researching it at all, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I learned that Berry College is in the midwest somewhere and coached by one of Wooldridge’s buddies.

In the end, it all comes down to conference play, the goal being to reduce the number of games you need to win in the conference tourney to get that auto-bid to the dance. 

See you at the Echo Chamber…

Akognon Dismantles the Big West’s Best Defense

Akognon: NBA bound?

Akognon: NBA bound?

The real John Akognon showed up in Anaheim for this one, and he was wearing his superman underoos, pouring in a tournament-record 37, including nine 3s. The chants of “You can’t guard him” were spot on. No one could, methinks.

At one point, with less than five minutes left and before Bob Burton subbed out his starters, the score was Josh Akognon 37, UC Riverside 35. Yikes.

Javon Borum having to serve a one-game suspension after punking someone in the Cal Poly likely made a big impact — not on Josh Akognon’s ability to score, but on the Highlanders’s own scoring. With him out, and Jalonni Diggs gimpy, Wooldridge came out with a very unordodox lineup. The Highlanders’s offense didn’t show up, save for 17 from Brandon Dowdy in the first half.

Despite the loss, this season has been one to celebrate for Rivi.  Big props to the program. Truly an impressive campaign. And the Highlanders return all but two players next season…

Learn to Dance in Four Easy Steps

Take control of the rock, Kyle.

Take control of the rock, Kyle.

Okay, so it won’t be easy. On the contrary, it will likely be the toughest potential four-game stretch of the season. And it will be even tougher with starting point guard and No. 2 scorer Javon Borum sidelined with a one-game suspension for shoving a Cal Poly player in the regular-season finale.

But the Highlanders, who have gone 8-8 in conference play, have proven they can win in this league. They took a game off their first-round opponent, Cal State Fullerton (7-9 in the Big West). However, with the NCAA bid on the line in what is essentially a home game for the Titans, UC Riverside will have to find a way to raise its game in order to compete. The Highlanders’ defense, tops in the Big West, will have to play to form and the offense needs to come alive.

Still no word as to whether senior leader Aaron Scott will play. That would be a huge lift with Borum on the bench. And Pub Wisdom reckons time is nigh for a 30+ performance from Kyle Austin and also feels potential breakout performances from Brandon Dowdy, Rudy Meo, or Jalonni Diggs (if he’s healthy).

Essentially, only one of their best games of the season will see them through to the quarterfinals. Then they’ll have to do it again. And again and again. Consistency has been elusive, despite the program’s watershed year. Now would be a serendipitous time to acquire some.

Pub Wisdom sees a game much closer than last year’s second-round rout by the Titans over the Highlanders, who will contain the Josh Akognon show to provide some first-round fireworks.

Pub Wisdom Predicts: UCR 69, CSUF 65

King’s Reign Begins as Wolves Topple No. 1 Monarchs

King's Tony Snell and Mater Dei spectator.

King's Tony Snell and Mater Dei spectator.

And when I say No. 1, I don’t mean in the Trinity League, the OC Register’s hinky polls, all of CIF Southern Section or even No. 1 in the Golden State. The Riverside Martin Luther King Wolves straight prowled on Mater Dei,  undefeated and No. 1 from sea to fuggin sea.

And they didn’t steal it at the buzzer or otherwise fluke into it.  Twas a straight-up double-digit mauling, the Wolf Pack leaving no questions unanswered in the 71-56 win at the Honda Center.

I like the LA Times coverage better than the Press Enterprise story. You be the judge. And if you were there, chime in on the comments with a first-hand account.

The Wolves went on a 15-0 run deep in the third — 15-0 against the best team in the nation? — and never looked back. Tony Snell and Taylor Cunningham led the Wolves with 16 points each, and Kawhi Leonard had a solid overall game with 11 points, 20 boards (yes, 20), and six blocks.

Much RESPECT to the Wolves, who are following up last’s years fairytale run with a filthy sequel.  May the run continue…

Congrats, Dietzer!

Zot Got Hot

I had predicted a statement game, and the UC Riverside Highlanders were one rim-out away from just that — a heart-breaking defeat of UC Irvine on the Anteaters’s homecoming night. Instead, the raucous crowd of 3,600+ at the Bren Events Center went home happy when the Anteaters were able to tie it up, 62-62, with less than 30 seconds left in the game with a clutch 3 by Michael Hunter in the corner. Riverside played for — and missed — the last shot in regulation. There’s your rim out.

Patrick Rembert then caught fire, scoring eight of his 11 points in the extra period. And the Zots, who kept turning up the heat throughout the game — shooting about 40% from the floor in the first period and 50% in the second half –stoked the furnace one more time and converted 60% in overtime. It was just too much for Riverside to contend with. So instead of statement game,  we got another tough road loss.

The second half was nip and tuck, featuring really exciting basketball that got the crowd wound up. The “Westside” marketing clown who always shows up at the Bren was geeking extra hard.

Kyle Austin quietly racked up a game-high 24 points for UCR.

UCI’s freshman big-man Eric Wise, who obviously absorbed much under the tutelage of post guru Jeff Dietz, assistant coach at Riverside King High (he learned some stuff from the  rest of the staff too, natch). He was shakin’ and bakin’, unpredictable and just on the edge of control at times, generally creating defensive headaches for Rivi.  He led five Eaters in double figures with 20.

Two conference games remain for UCR. Two roadies against UCSB and Cal Poly. If the Highlanders can break through for wins in both games, no one can take fourth place, and the attendent first-round bye, from them. It will be a tough challenge for the Highlanders, especially in Isla Vista. Unlike mathmatically hopeless Cal Poly, the Gauchos have much left to play for. If they manage to run their last two games, they could swing from as low as 8th up to 4th with help from others, so they will be hungry for the home win.

Pub Wisdom reckons the Highlanders may win one of two, still giving them a shot at the first-round  bye in certain scenarios. All the parity in the league provides the makings for a fascinating Big West tournament. The bid to the big dance is literally up for grabs for the team who can put  a couple-three — hopefully four — wins together. It’s on like Tron.

The 63-60 home win against Fullerton was sweet, by the way. I hooked up with Q-Tip for some SubStation action before tip-off and watched the Highlanders grit out a home win without the injured senior Aaron Scott. 

Josh Akognon, top ten nationally in scoring, drained the equalizing 3 right in front of his bench with 4 ticks remaining, but had stepped out of bounds just prior to launching it, negating the basket and sealing the win for Rivi. Schwing.