Men's Basketball, Sports

‘Niners headed to the Big Dance

ANAHEIM — There’s nothing that can keep the Long Beach State men’s basketball team from the “Big Dance” now.

The 49ers sealed their own fate with a 77-64 victory over UC Santa Barbara in the Big West Conference championship game Saturday night in front of a crowd of 7,564 at the Honda Center, earning an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

After four years of coming up short, three of which LBSU’s four senior starters were a part of, many spoke of the look in the eyes of senior guard Casper Ware as he took the floor — the look that said he was not going to let his team lose.

They continued to talk about it as he netted 14 first half points, including four bombs from 3-point range.

Ware made believers out of the pundits who felt that the Gauchos would bounce back with a second half comeback after trailing 36-34 at halftime by adding onto his legendary performance after the break.

Ware continued his inspired play in the second period, draining four more 3-pointers while finishing with a game-high 33 points — exercising the demons that UCSB seniors Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally have caused him over the past two years.

The senior was not to be denied.

LBSU head coach Dan Monson said that his past NCAA tournament experiences have been headlined by his best player.

“I told Cas [Ware] earlier in the week, I’ve got good feelings,” he said. “Anytime I’ve been to the NCAA tournament, my best player has taken me there. I can’t get out of my mind that you’re gonna do that this weekend.”

Monson added: “He’s had a look, and it was contagious. It was a look of we’re doing this. The leadership of Casper was special, and when you have a special guy, you go to the NCAA tournament.”

Junior wing James Ennis said the intensity Ware displayed helped him get in the same mindset.

“They’ve been here two years in a row, and didn’t finish, so today he really motivated me to play hard and step up.”

Ware said he had to step up his leadership with senior guard Larry Anderson out due to injury.

“I knew I had to be more of a leader with Larry [Anderson] out,” he said. “So knowing that, I took it upon myself to not let my team lose. Not just scoring, if I had to take a charge, I’d take a charge. If I had to yell at them [teammates], I’d make sure I do that.”

Ware added: “Anything my team needed, I was focused and ready to do that.”

It was not just Ware who contributed to the success of the 49ers in the Big West tournament, though. Ennis scored 15 points on 4 of 9 shooting. Junior guard Peter Pappageorge scored eight points, all in the first half, on 3 of 6 shooting, including 2 of 5 from behind the arc.

Senior forward Edis Dervisevic only scored two points, but pulled down a game-high nine rebounds and dished out five assists.

Monson said that the bench play was key to the 49ers taking home the Big West tournament title.

“Obviously Casper was great, but the difference in this tournament was the bench,” he said. “All of them just stayed within their game, and I thought they all did a great job.”

Even though UCSB finished with a better field goal percentage for the contest, 47.4 percent compared to 43.9 percent for The Beach, the ‘Niners connected on 14 of 33 3-pointers which was the difference in the game. The 49ers also hit 13 of their 16 free throw attempts.

Johnson and Nunnally each scored 17 points for the Gauchos, while Alan Williams pitched in 13 points and seven rebounds.

The Big West tournament title marked the fifth all-time for the 49ers, who will be making their ninth NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2007.

After the game, Monson talked about the process of finally getting over the hump, and making it to the NCAA tournament with this squad.

“It’s been a four year process to get here, and any road you travel you want it to be quicker than it actually is,” he said.

After the past few years of heartbreak, the road continues beyond the Big West tournament for the 49ers.  

The 49ers will have a viewing party at Legends Sports Bar on East 2nd Street in Long Beach for the NCAA tournament selection show, which is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m

One Comment

  1. Gaucho Fan

    First off, the fans are just outright rude and that post is disgusting. Here’s the fact, you fans should know that two of the players played in the NBA lockout league, making them INELGIBLE! If that story from last summer was in there, then the truth is already out there. The athletic director and others should have taken care of that before the season. UCSB was not greedy, they were overmatched by a team with people that do not belong there to begin with. Get your facts straight fans!

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