ANAHEIM, Calif. In the process of building a mid-major basketball program on the upswing, the senior-heavy Long Beach State 49ers scheduled a murderer's row of opponents before the start of Big West play this season.
An 88-76 road win over then ninth-ranked Pittsburgh in their second game of the season was the program's first win over a ranked team since 1994. They also defeated Xavier while losing at Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina, where they had a five point halftime lead at the Dean Dome against the country's fourth-ranked team.
It should come as a surprise, then, that the arch nemesis they finally vanquished at the Big West Tournament Championship Saturday was none other than the fearsome UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.
The 49ers (25-8) relied on Big West Player of the Year Casper Ware's 33 points and used a 12-0 second half run to overwhelm UCSB (20-10) 77-64, erasing two straight years of bitter losses to the Gauchos in the Big West tournament final and earning their firs...