PUB WISDOM

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Archive for Jim Wooldridge

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…

Zot Zot Not

Zot Zot Zzzz

Zot Zot Zzzz

It’s been a whirlwind lately, and a wee bit of neglect is showing. After all, wins on the road at San Jose State and at home to Cal State Fullerton have transpired with no predictions or commentary. Perhaps we’ll double back soon.  Tonight, however, we have the present.

Heading out to watch the Highlanders on the road at UC Irvine — a treat for me to have them playing so close to the beach. The Eaters were opportunistic on their trip out to the IE, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. If they get hot, say good night.

The Highlander team the Anteaters will face has matured and done its fair share of winning since the last meeting. Perhaps I’m letting the fact that I’m juiced to be going to the game color my normally icy judgement, but Pub Wisdom thinks tonight will be what’s called a statement game. Riverside takes this one on the road, gets one step closer to a first-round bye in the Big West tournament.

Remember this time last season, when the Highlanders were fighting for their post-season lives? Didn’t think so, but I do.

Pub Wisdom Predicts: UCR 68, UCI 64

Highlanders Sweep Homestand, Hit Road for Northridge Test

Time to take over the Matadome.

Great Scott: Time to take over the Matadome.

Pub Wisdom will go ahead and claim it: as predicted, the Highlanders denied all visitors to the Echo Chamber during their recent three-game homestand to move into a tie for third place in the Big West. Wednesday’s win was the biggest of the three, a 2OT barnburner with then-first place Long Beach State. Kyle Austin and Aaron Scott both bounced back from subpar games in the UC Davis win with 20+ points each against the Niners.

Any doubters left who still think Rivi’s not for real? I can think of one particular group of individuals who have their doubts. Namely, the CSUN Matadors, sole owners of first place in the Big West (thanks, in part, to the Highlanders handling Long Beach on Wednesday). The Matadors were picked to finish first in the Big West prior to the season and, despite some serious off-court drama, have lived up to the hype.

Riverside invades CSUN’s home court,  the Matadome, tonight in its biggest conference test yet. Can the Highlanders vaunted defense foil Northridge’s potent attack? The bigger question is whether or not UCR’s D will be accompanied by some offensive production. If there was ever a game for Kyle Austin and/or Aaron Scott to gwoff, this is it.  If one or two others, like Javon Borum, Jalonni Diggs, Jessie LoBue, Brandon Dowdy, or Christian Soto, can contribute, an upset is highly possible. 

All that said, Pub Wisdom reckons it’s a tall order, perhaps too tall. With all the takin’ Rivi’s been doing lately, it’s likely time for the Highlanders to do some givin’.

Tune into the audio stream here. (Look for the link down the right-hand side).

Pub Wisdom Predicts: CSUN 71, UCR 57

Historic Home Win for Highlanders

Rivi's go-to guy

Kyle Austin: Rivi's go-to guy

It’s only happened once  before and, remarkably, it took place at the nadir of the UC Riverside D1 era. A few seasons back, when you could count UCR’s season win tally on one hand, the lowly Highlanders rolled into Stockton and beat Pacific for the first time — a huge upset — on the back of 40 points by Ricky Porter. I remember hoping it was the start of something, but the Highlanders slipped back into the depths, having shot their wad.

On Thursday night, UC Riverside proved that the win at Long Beach wasn’t a fluke by outlasting a tough visiting Pacific team, 66-33, at the Echo Chamber. It was a pivotal game for Rivi, helping to staunch the bleeding caused by dropping 5 of  its last 6 Big West matchups. And it completes the trip from nadir to zenith as the Highlanders’ 12th win of the year sets the new school record for total wins in the D1 era. We’ll see how many they manage to add to that record. At the end of last season, I set .500 as Wooldridge’s bogey. I think the Highlanders have a relatively good shot at surpassing that.

Kyle Austin led the Highlanders, natch, and there was talk of him “taking over” the game a bit more than he has in the past, canning 13 of his game-high 20 points in the second half . Wooldridge runs a team-first program, but even he conceded that, within the confines of the team system, there is flexibility for Kyle to spread his wings a bit more. There’s your green light, kid. Show this country what you’ve got.

Aaron Scott , the veteran Highlander who has been instrumental for continuity over the past couple seasons and who has unselfishly made room for Austin to flourish, was solid with 14 points, and Brandon Dowdy stepped up with 11 on 3-for-4 from behind the arc, including a pair of crucial threes deep in the second half that were momentum killers for the Tigers.

I have to admit that it’s a bit freaky seeing the Highlanders compete like this. They’ve beat of the top teams in the conference and have been “in” every single Big West game. They now face two more huge home games, with Davis in town tonight for Homecoming and Long Beach State looking for revenge next week. Look for the Highlanders to blow some minds by sweeping the homestand.

But I can’t help but thinking that no matter what happens over the next couple weeks, the Highlanders have to keep patiently focusing on developing as a unit while Austin emerges as a conference standout.

Their goal has to be to peak at the right time, over a four-game stretch next month at the Anaheim Convention Center. It’s a long shot, yes,  but it’s well within the realm of reality for this to be the year that Riverside punches its first ticket to the Big Dance. Put that in your pipe and schmoke it.

Pub Wisdom Predicts: UC Riverside 71, UC Davis 59