It was a rather uneventful day overall with the top four seeds all advancing, as expected. While Thursday provided little excitement, Friday is set up for the two games everyone wanted to see.
Game 1: No. 4 UC Santa Barbara 87, No. 5 UC Davis 61
UCSB continued their dominance over the bottom half of the league. The Gauchos started the game with their hair on fire on both ends. Michael Bryson had 16 points by the half and hit all four of his three-point attempts. It seemed like Davis couldn't get an open look until about 10 minutes into the game. The game was really over before the first half had even ended. The Aggies came into the game limited already with big man Neal Monson missing the trip to Anaheim due to the early morning birth of his first child. Who knows what difference Monson would have made, but he's the best rebounder on the team and had been coming off a 21 point, 15 rebound performance in his last game.
Game 2: No. 1 Hawaii 75, No. 8 Cal State Fullerton 44
The feel of the first half had one of the superior team opening an early lead and casually coasting to the second round. But then Fullerton went on a 9-2 run over the last few minutes of the first half - including a buzzer-beater three from Jamar Akoh - to go in down only one at the break. Then the Titans took a 30-29 lead a few minutes into the second half. It looked like we just might have a ball game. The Rainbows responded by going on a 28-3 run. The margin would not get closer than 20 points the rest of the way. So much for that. The Titans went just 1-13 from three-point land. Aaron Valdes led the Bows 18 points (7-10 from the field) along with six rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
We'll see what the future holds from here for Dedrique Taylor as the head coach at Fullerton. In his three years, the Titans are just 10-38 in Big West play and haven't won a game in the Big West Tournament.
Game 3: No. 2 UC Irvine 84, No. 7 Cal Poly 64
Hey, our first entertaining game of the day! It still wasn't close in score, but it at least felt more competitive. Both teams shot over 58% from three-point land, but Luke Nelson was the difference. The junior guard matched his career high with six three-pointers on just seven attempts and his 36 points was just one off the Big West Tourney record. Poly was within two at the half behind the hot shooting Luke Meikle and Josh Martin. Yes, the hot shooting of Josh Martin. Coming into the game, Martin was 3-20 from distance on the year. He was 3-3 on Thursday night. But the Mustangs couldn't sustain it and they couldn't find a way to slow down Nelson, who was practically unguardable. Mamadou Ndiaye getting ejected for leaving the bench midway through the second half didn't even slow down the Eaters offense one bit.
Game 4: No. 3 Long Beach State 82, No. 6 UC Riverside 74
The nightcap wasn't a thing of beauty, but it provided the only late-game drama of the day. Both halves started like the two teams were just getting out of bed, but that's pretty much par for the course for a 49er-Highlander battle. Not surprisingly, this one turned in to a duel of sorts between the two best players - Nick Faust and Jaylen Bland. Faust played his usual beautiful, erratic game, while Bland did most of his work by knocking down five threes. Unfortunately, it took him 15 attempts to reach that number. The deciding factor in the game was probably the bench play. The Beach got a big lift from Travis Hammonds, Noah Blackwell, and Roschon Prince. Those three combined for 31 points, outscoring the Highlanders' reserves by 17. The trio's play was crucial due to Gabe Levin picking up four fouls in his first seven minutes of playing time.
Game 1: No. 1 Hawaii vs. No. 4 UC Santa Barbara
Hawaii swept the series in the regular season and the Bows controlled both games for the most part. As has been the case several times this year, Bryson and Michael Vincent were forced to carry the offense on both occasions and didn't get much help elsewhere. With that said, John Green missed the game in Honolulu and he's been hot for the Gauchos, scoring at least 14 points in the past four games. UCSB will also have to limit turnovers. The Bows love to generate offense off of steals, and the Gauchos were willing participants in that strategy in games one and two. Hawaii was their typical selves against Fullerton Thursday defending out on the perimeter, but that'll be a tougher task against UCSB. Bryson and Vincent are a lethal combo if you let them get going.
Game 2: No. 2 UC Irvine vs. No. 3 Long Beach State
Ndiaye apparently will be back for Friday's matchup with the 49ers and he'll be a big asset against their undersized frontcourt. The Eaters swept the series this year and they rolled in the most recent game at the Bren Events Center. UCI was 12-20 from deep in that game and given their hot shooting again on Thursday, that'll be a major key for The Beach defense to stop. AJ Spencer was banged up with a bad shoulder in that game, though, and Faust had his worst game of the season. Given his penchant for the big moment, I wouldn't expect that again. The Eaters will have to slow down Justin Bibbins' dribble penetration. He got himself to the line for 15 free throw attempts in the last matchup and made all of them. The matchup favors UCI, but The Beach will be champing at the bit to get revenge in the rivalry.