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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

Highlanders Lock it Down in Long Beach

Step off, son.

Step off, Be-ach.

They went looking for a sacrificial Highlander, someone to come onto their site, LBPostSports.com, to spout and spray about UC Riverside hoops only to have the Niners ultimately eat Rivi’s “lunchables.” They wanted an appetizer before the big game this past weekend between Long Beach State and the Highlanders at the Pyramid. What they got instead was a healthy dose of Pub Wisdom, a Riverside reality check, and — perhaps — some indigestion, as UCR claimed the win, 64-55. Read the Press-Enterprise coverage here.

In all fairness, the dudes from LBPostSports.com are cool and knowledgable, and it was fun to do the little back-and-forth that served as a preview to the game. But let’s face it, they expected that the Niners would easily handle the lowly Highlanders.

And why not expect it? The Niners beat Temple not long ago, for chrissakes. Temple. That thar’s a real basketball team. They beat New Mexico State, which coasted by Riverside in the season opener for both teams. They played Oregon, BYU, Wisconsin and others super tuff and racked up plenty of quality wins, only getting their asses truly handed to them by Big East big-dog Syracuse. And let’s not forget LBSU’s scorching 5-0 run to start Big West play. The Niners — whose roster is chock-a-block with impressionable freshmen — no doubt came into the game with some swagger, while Riverside came in riding a 21-game conference road losing streak.

So they went looking for, and found, a “real life Highlander” to toy with. And yrs truly took the bait. What transpired next was pure Ali in Zaire. Straight rope-a-dope.

I undersold the Highlanders, who then overdelivered. I modestly pointed out their strengths: solid team D, poise down the stretch, balanced scoring. But I didn’t bluster, didn’t claim. Full disclosure: I knew Rivi would come into this game with high intensity, facing the conference frontrunner after dropping three straight Big West fixtures,  but I fully expected them to get outgunned by the 49ers.

Instead, the Highlanders sagged on defense, closing down the lane and daring the 49ers to hit jumpers. They didn’t. Meanwhile, Kyle Austin, Javon Borum, and Adrian Soto all scored in double figures. The Highlanders also significantly outboarded Long Beach State and positively locked down the Pyramid on defense over the final five minutes, in which the Niners failed to score a solitary bucket. All this on TV, no less.

But enough revelry. Let’s level-set, shall we, lest the Highlanders begin to believe the hype. This was a huge win for Highlander hoops — no doubt about it — another proof point in a pleasantly surprising campaign thus far. Now it’s time to make it a replicable phenomenon.

Next up, the Anteaters, those beasts from the Back Bay, visit the Echo Chamber (it may be empty,  but the Highlanders do appear to enjoy home-court advantage there). In a sign of the times, Pub Wisdom actually expects Ws these days, and believes  UC Riverside will deliver one. It should have beaten CSUN at home a couple weeks back, and it will beat UC Irvine there on Thursday.

Pub Wisdom Predicts: UC Riverside 77, UC Irvine 59

Photo: Russell Conroy/LBPostSports.com