PUB WISDOM

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Archive for Long Beach State

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 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

How Sweet is Home for Highlanders?

UC Riverside puts its 9-2 home record on the line tonight against LBSU in what is a huge game for both squads.  Are the Niners truly the class of the Big West, as their current position at the top of the table implies? If so, they’ve gotta win road games like this. They’ve proven they can do it — their win at Pacific is emblematic. For the Highlanders, a win tonight would mean sweeping a tough homestand and a 6-5 record — 6 and flippin 5, yo. That’s just freaky.

Riverside closed out UC Davis in front of a SELL OUT crowd of 2725 at the Echodome (can I still cap on it if it sells out? It will be interesting to see how many heads show up when it’s not homecoming).  UCR tried to give the game away to the Aggies a few times in the closing seconds with mental errors but managed to pull it out, despite off nights by team leaders Aaron Scott and Kyle Austin.

How long can I keep calling it the Echo Chamber?

How long can I keep calling it the Echo Chamber?

UCR is  now 5-5 in conference and tied for 4th place. This is the team unanimously tagged to finish last. Let’s not get too excited, but this has been a watershed season just based on what’s gone down so far. A record 13 wins in the D1 era.

Now, back to Long Beach tonight. The Niners will want revenge for being humiliated at home, but will they be looking past Riverside just a bit at their showdown with Fullerton? Let’s hope so.

Here’s my read. Riverside sees this as a huge game and will come out focused. They will outboard LBSU and will be tough on defense. Look for a 20+ performance from Kyle Austin and big nights from Christian Soto, Aaron Scott, and Brandon Dowdy.

Pub Wisdom Predicts: UCR 76, LBSU 66

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

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

Highlanders’ Schedule is Tougher than Yours

Sophomore maestro Joe Kelly clocked two saves as visiting UCR took last weekend’s series against No. 5 UC Irvine. The overall toughness of the Big West Conference no doubt helps UCR’s strength of schedule — allegedly the best in the land.

According to the preview of this weekend’s Big West conference weekend series between UC RIverside and Cal State Northridge — bitter rivals back in the D2 CCAA — the latest set of Strength of Schedule ratings at Boydsworld.com has UC Riverside’s schedule ranked as the toughest in all of Division I College Baseball. (I looked and couldn’t find it at www.boydsworld.com-PW)

From the UCR release: The Highlanders rank ahead of defending national champion Oregon State and current PAC-10 leader Stanford. UCR has played #5 UC Irvine three times, #8 Nebraska four times this season, #21 San Diego twice, #22 Cal State Fullerton and #25 Long Beach State three times. UCR plays #5 UC Irvine once more for a non-conference match-up on May 6th.

That said, they’re well under .500 this season overall, and have their hands full in a Big West conference race that looks to be an all-out dogfight. They currently are tied for 4th with No. 25 Long Beach State.

The Highlanders have retained their propensity to swing above their weight when they play the heavy programs. To wit, they’ve won weekend series against two top-ten teams — UC Irvine when they were No. 5, just last weekend, and Long Beach State, while they occupied the No. 9 slot earlier in the season. They don’t have the consistency of last year’s Big West-winning squad, but if they can turn some of the experience they’ve gained playing the toughest schedule in the land into a second-half surge and sneak into the rankings, they could well find a spot in a regional.

Ace sophomore stopper Joe Kelly is back in the bull pen for Doug Smith, and proved stone-cold in the 9th inning during Sunday’s rubber game win over UCI at Anteater Field — another bit of mo’ upon which the Highlanders can build.

Highlanders Send Stangs to the Glue Factory

lcatacc.jpg

Well, not really, so please don’t call PETA. But the No. 7 seed Highlanders did send No. 6 seed Cal Poly home early with a first-round exit in the Big West Tournament. The Highlanders’ 62-56 UCR victory, was only its second-ever D1 “post-season” win, and its first since the Nate Carter-Vili Morton days.  Read full coverage here.

When the team huddled before tip off, their team cheer was a business-like “Play hard” and ultimately their efforts resulted in a hard-earned if somewhat ugly win. Both teams got off to slow starts, and UCR held a slim 20-17 halftime lead after leading by as many as 10.

Cal Poly came out of the second half with more pressure and even led for a few minutes before UCR went back out in front and the two teams started trading buckets for an extended time. Ultimately, a series of defensive stops by the Highlanders resulted in a consistent 6 to 8-point gap down the stretch, forcing the Mustangs to start fouling with about a minute left. The right strategy, considering the Highlanders’ pathetic average from the stripe, but it didn’t pay off this time as Jalonni Diggs and Larry Cunningham made enough of their free throws to seal the deal.

UCR will have to raise its game to compete with Cal State Fullerton in the early game tonight. The Titans hold the fourth-best ppg average in D1. Fortunately for Rivi, defense and hustle are two of its strong suits. Couple that with a solid team offensive performance and it could be close enough down the stretch to be interesting.

No matter what happens tonight, however, it’s clear that UCR has made forward progress. As mentioned before, the Highlanders are plain competitive this season. Ask UCI, Cal Poly, Long Beach State, and Hawaii — teams they beat — as well as UCSB, Pacific, CSUN and the other teams they played tight.

Wooldridge, here’s your bogey for next season: .500

Pub Wisdom Predicts: CSUF 85, UCR 72