GAME NOTES: The regular season comes to a close tonight for the UC Riverside Highlanders and the Long Beach State 49ers, as the two are set to square off in a Big West Conference tilt at Walter Pyramid.
UC Riverside has recovered from a five-game losing streak to win its last two games and secure the No. 8 seed for the BWC Tournament. After topping Cal State Northridge in double-overtime last weekend, the Highlanders followed that up with a 78-65 triumph over UC Davis on Thursday. However, both of those victories came on the Highlanders' home floor, whereas they are just 2-12 as the visiting team this season.
Long Beach State has veered in the opposite direction of late as it lost a pair of road games this past week after winning its previous three contests. Most recently, the 49ers were dealt a 91-83 setback at Northridge on Thursday. Regardless of the outcome of this game, they are locked into the No. 3 seed for the league tourney.
LBSU holds a 31-9 lead in the all-time series and claimed an 88-76 road victory when the teams met up a month ago in Riverside.
The Highlanders turned in a solid all-around effort a couple of nights ago as they led from start to finish against UC Davis. They shot 54.7 percent from the floor, made 16-of-18 free throws, and held a 34-26 rebounding advantage for the game. A 19-9 spurt midway through the second half broke the game open. Chris Patton finished with a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds. Sam Finley added 19 points in 24 minutes off the bench, and Steven Thornton rounded out the team's double-digit scorers with 14 points. On the season, Patton leads the team with 13.8 ppg to go along with 6.1 rebounds. Taylor Johns is next in line with 12.5 ppg and is pulling down a team-best 8.1 rpg. Both players are shooting better than 52 percent from the floor. Finley has also made steady contributions and is averaging 12.4 ppg.
For Long Beach State, Mike Caffey leads the way with 15.7 ppg in league play, followed by Tyler Lamb with 14.3 ppg. Caffey is also averaging 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists, while Lamb is pulling down 4.1 boards per contest. Headlining the front court is Dan Jennings, a 65 percent shooter from the floor who is averaging 9.5 ppg and 8.7 rpg against BWC foes. In their last contest, the 49ers knocked down 10 3-pointers (.370) and made 19-of-22 free throws (.864), but they also committed 28 fouls and allowed the Matadors to shoot a healthy 51 percent from the floor. Northridge took advantage of the numerous opportunities at the charity stripe and converted 34-of-39 attempts. Lamb paced LBSU with 22 points in the loss, while Caffey tallied 19 points and seven assists, and Branford Jones scored 17 off the bench. Jennings recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 caroms.
With their respective seeds already locked up, this will serve as a virtual tune-up game for both teams entering next week's league tournament. The 49ers would be well served to correct some of their recent flaws if they hope to go into the postseason with some momentum and make a real run at the BWC crown.
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