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Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton jump to top of Big West

Picked seventh and eighth in the preseason polls, Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton are leading the Big West with less than a month to go

NCAA Basketball: Long Beach State at UCLA
Aboubacar Traore leads the Big West in rebounding at 8.3 per contest. He is a big reason why the Beach is atop the conference standings.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Long Beach State was picked eighth (out of 10) in the Big West Conference preseason coaches’ poll and seventh in the media poll. Tell that to the Beach now as it has won 10 straight games and is in sole possession of first place in the conference at 9-1.

The Beach’s season has taken several turns. It started the season 4-9 and missed three weeks of games. Long Beach State battled UCLA twice and USC once in non-conference.

Once it got into Big West play, Long Beach State found its stride. After dropping the conference opener to Hawai’i at home, it defeated defending Big West champion and preseason favorite UC Santa Barbara to kick off the 10-game win streak. Long Beach State is one of 11 teams in the country to be currently riding a nine-plus game winning streak.

Six of the Beach’s nine conference wins have come by single digits. In the most-recent victory, Long Beach State avenged its loss to Hawai’i by topping the Rainbow Warriors 73-66 Thursday. Freshman Aboubacar Traore tallied a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He leads the conference at 8.3 rebounds per contest.

Joel Murray leads the team and ranks second in the conference at 15.9 points per game. He is shooting a Big-West-best 86% from the free throw line.

The Beach leads the Big West by averaging 73.7 points per game, but its defense ranks last in the conference by allowing 72.8 points.

Cal State Fullerton sits in a tie for second in the Big West. It similarly is a surprise team as it was picked seventh in the coaches’ poll and eighth in the media poll.

The Titans are 7-3 in the conference. They won their first five Big West games but have dropped their last two by falling at Long Beach State 71-61 and at Hawai’i 72-55. They are in a stretch where they play four consecutive road games.

E.J. Anosike leads the Big West in scoring at 16.5 and ranks third in rebounding at 8.1. He has scored in double figures in all but one game this season with the anomaly being a nine-point performance against San Diego State. The fifth-year senior played for three years at Sacred Heart and one season at Tennessee.

Hawai’i is tied with the Cal State Fullerton at 7-3 in the conference after knocking off the Titans by 17 in their most recent game. The win snapped the Rainbow Warriors’ three-game losing streak. Their biggest win of the season came in the conference opener over Long Beach State.

UC Irvine sits just a half game behind the Titans and the Rainbow Warriors at 6-3. The Anteaters, who were picked second in both preseason polls, have won five straight. This stretch includes a one-point victory over preseason favorite UC Santa Barbara. They are slated to host Hawai’i in the Big West Game of the Week this coming Saturday night.

UC Riverside is just over .500 at 5-4 in conference play. The Highlanders have dropped four of their last six games. The highlight of the season came when they knocked off Arizona State 66-65 on JP Moorman II’s three-quarters court heave as time expired.

Rounding out the conference standings: UC Davis is .500 at 3-3; UC Santa Barbara is right behind at 3-4; CSU Northridge is 3-7; CSU Bakersfield and Cal Poly each have one conference victory; and UC San Diego is winless in Big West play.