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Big West Season Recap

September 24, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Big West Conference 2003-04 Season Recap

by Matthew Lefebvre

After a summer which brought NCAA investigation and a significant tournament change to the Big West, the conference proved it should not be overlooked as they sent two teams to post-season tournaments. Utah State (NCAA) and Pacific (NIT) finished the 2003-04 campaign with an identical 17-1 record in conference games. Both loses, coincidently, came against each other. Utah State won 66-51 at home on Jan. 15 and then fell on Pacific’s home floor, 64-60 on Feb. 14.

Many of the teams which were thought to compete for the conference crown had significant trouble and were not able to make any type of move in the standings. One of those teams was Cal Poly who was picked to finish third, but fell to eighth after a disappointing campaign which left them with a 6-12 Big West record despite having the conference’s leading scorer, Varnie Dennis (18.0 ppg) on the team. UC Irvine was another team which could not meet the expectations. Thought to be a fourth place team, the Anteaters slipped to No. 9 and failed to make the conference tournament.

The obvious surprise of the year came in the postseason when underrated UC Northridge defeated Cal State Fullerton (7), Cal Santa Barbara (3) and Utah State (1) three consecutive days and came within two made free throws of making it to the NCAA Tournament. The Matadors had three players in the top 15 in scoring during the regular season.

Big West Conference Tournament

Coming into the Big West Conference Tournament, regular season powers Pacific and Utah State were the favorites to take the title to the NCAA tournament. Under the revamped tournament guidelines, the No.1 and No. 2 seeds get byes into the semi-finals while the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds got first round byes. After each round, the teams were reseeded so the highest seed would face the lowest seed. This was done in hopes of getting the strongest team from the conference to the NCAA Tournament, but not everything goes according to plan.

The first round featured one of the best players in the Big West, Pape Sow of Cal State Fullerton. He recorded a team high 21 points, but Fullerton could not stop No. 6 Cal State Northridge who won 80-70. The Matadors shot over .500 from the field and from beyond the arc.

The other first round match-up was between No. 5 Cal Riverside and No. 8 Cal Poly. The favored Highlanders had four players in double-figures, led by Nate Carter’s 22 points. Cal Poly had 19 turnovers and four players with four personal fouls.

The second round brought into play the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, Cal Santa Barbara and Idaho, respectively.

Idaho was hot entering the tournament, winning eight of its last 11 games. They continued their winning ways with a 66-58 win over No. 5 Cal Riverside. The Vandals defense was the deciding factor in a game that was tight until the end. They forced Cal Riverside into 3-14 shooting from beyond the three-point line and forced 18 turnovers. The Vandals were led by Senior Tyrone Hayes’ 22 points.

In the other second round match-up, Cal State Northridge continued their quest towards the conference crown with a 61-58 win over No. 3 Cal Santa Barbara. Northridge got an impressive 19 points from Joseph Frazier, a player not known for his scoring. Santa Barbara did not a three-pointer all game, going 0-9. They were led by Cecil Brown and Jacoby Atako who both netted 10 points.

The semi-finals were just as the conference commissioner wanted, all the top seeds except for the up and coming No. 6 Cal State Northridge. The Highlanders were to take on No. 1 Utah State, a team that had lost just one conference game all season and was the hands down favorite to make it to the NCAA tourney.

Utah State, along with being the No. 1 seed in the Big West was also the No. 22 team in the country coming into the game. Northridge led by six at the half, 34-28, and carried that momentum into the second half and into the waning seconds when Joseph Frazier hit a three-pointer to send the Highlanders to the Big West Championship Game. Ian Boylan, Second Team All-Big West, scored a game high 27 points, including four of seven from beyond the three point line. The Aggies were led by Spencer Nelson who had 19 points but the big story was that the Aggies could not stop Northridge on defense. The Highlanders shot over .500 from the field and from deep and only missed one free throw (14-15) the entire game.

The second semi-final game pitted No. 2 University of the Pacific against No. 4 Idaho Vandals. The No. 2 Tigers had won 12 games in a row coming into this contest and sported the league’s Player of the Year in Miah Davis. He scored 21 of the Tigers 67 points and was clutched down the stretch hitting 12 of 14 from the free throw line to seal the 67-61 Pacific victory. The Vandals were led by Hayes’ 19 points. This set-up a game between the No. 2 and the No. 6 seeds in the conference championship.

In the Big West Championship, Pacific proved their worth early as they led at the half, 37-29. The Tigers got out to a robust 28-9 lead before the Matadors climbed back into it. The game was tight all the way to the final buzzer as with: 05 left in regulation, Davis drove to the hoop and was fouled. He sunk both freebees and Pacific missed a desperation three and the celebration began.

Now the Pacific Tigers would have to wait until selection Sunday to see whom they would face in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Big West Post-Season

University of the Pacific Tigers

The Tigers finished second in the Big West in 2003-04 but were able to defeat Cinderella hopefully Cal State Northridge in the conference championship game to receive the automatic NCAA bid. They were given the No. 12 seed in the St. Louis Bracket and were pitted against up and coming Providence College led by standout Ryan Gomes. The Tigers came out hot, and led by four, 37-33 at the intermission. In the second half, Pacific tightened up the defense and held the Friars to only 25 points. Gomes was the only PC player in double figures, netting 25 points in the Tigers 66-58 win. Pacific was led by standout Miah Davis who scored 19 points on seven of 15 from the field.

With the win, the Tigers faced the national runner-up from the previous year, the Kansas Jayhawks. Although Providence is a tough team, they are not as proven and battle tested as the ‘Hawks who were able to handle the inexperienced Tigers, 78-63. The Tigers were only down four at the half, 36-32, but the increased pressure of the second half proved to be too much and the Jayhawks outscored them 42-31. Miah Davis, was held to only 10 points while Guillaume Yango stepped up his scoring and netted a team high 22 points.

Utah State Aggies

The Aggies were 17-1 in Big West play and lost only four games all season but one of the loses came to Cal State Northridge in the Big West semifinals, 63-62. This was the most meaningful of all the loses, as it ended any hopes the Aggies had of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. Even though they did not go to the dance, the NIT was there with open arms to accept a mid-major who won 25 games.

The Aggies opponent, the University of Hawaii came out firing on all cylinders in the first half, scoring 43 points and taking an 11 point lead into the locker room. Hawaii known as a good shooting team was fire from beyond three, hitting eight of their 13 attempts. The two teams played even ball in the second half, both scoring 42 points. The Aggies unable to come back from their first half deficit lost 85-74. Spencer Nelson continued his big play leading State with 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. He was arguably the team’s most valuable player on its post-season run.

Big West Hardware

Player of the Year

Miah Davis, Senior, University of the Pacific Tigers

Newcomer of the Year

Bobby Brown, Freshman, Cal State Fullerton

Coach of the Year

Bob Thomason, University of the Pacific Tigers

All-Conference 1st Team
Miah Davis, Senior, University of the Pacific
Christian Maraker, Sophomore, University of the Pacific
Cardell Butler, Senior, Utah State Aggies
Mark Brown, Senior, Utah State Aggies
Nate Harris, Sophomore, Utah State Aggies
Pape Sow, Senior, Cal State Fullerton

All-Conference 2nd Team
Ian Boylan, Junior, Cal State Northridge
Nate Carter, Sophomore, Cal Riverside
Tyrone Hayes, Senior, Idaho Vandals
Spencer Nelson, Junior, Utah State Aggies
Kevin Roberts, Senior, Long Beach State
Varnie Dennis, Senior, Cal Poly

Utah State Aggies 25-4, 17-1 Big West

A team which has become familiar with postseason play in recent years, the Aggies were able to pull off an invitation to the NIT tournament after a disappointing end to an outstanding season. Losing only once until the Big West Tournament, the Aggies appeared as though their only trouble would be rival Pacific, but the oversight allowed Cal State Northridge to gain a 63-62 win and advance to the conference finals. The loss ended the Aggies run to the dance and made them the brides’ maids of the Big West. After the loss to CSN, State lost to the University of Hawaii in the first round of the NIT, 85-74.

Team MVP – Cardell Butler (14.0 ppg, 30.1 mpg, started all 29 games)

Top Scorer – Cardell Butler (14.0 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Spencer Wilson (7.8 rpg)
Top Assists – Mark Brown (4.86 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Cardell Butler (Graduating)
Mark Brown (Graduating)
Mike Ahmad (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Nate Harris; Junior Forward (11.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Spencer Nelson; Senior Forward (11.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg)

The losses of Butler and Brown, the team’s leading scorer and assist man, respectively will significantly hurt the offense. The Aggies still do have an impressive front like with Harris and Nelson both returning, a year older and stronger. Another run to the post season may not be in the future unless State gets the same scoring contribution from the front line, and the starters in the backcourt are able to fill the large shoes left behind for them.

University of Pacific Tigers 25-8, 17-1 Big West

For a team which was picked to finish ninth in its own conference, the Tigers did pretty well for themselves. After a rocky start, the Tigers were 5-6 on New Year’s Day and were making plans for Spring Break. But that was the non-conference portion of the schedule. Once Big West play began, the Tigers were near unstoppable, winning 17 of 18, including 15 in a row. They finished four games behind first place Utah State, and defeated Idaho and Cal State Northridge in the Big West tourney en route to an NCAA bid. The Tigers drew No. 12 and were slated to face a tough Providence College team who made waves in the Big East. Led by Ryan Gomes, the Friars were a favorite to win its first round game, but it seems that every year, a No. 12 seed beats a No. 5, and sure enough, Pacific was that No. 12. In the round of 32, the Tigers faced a Kansas team that was a year removed and a blocked three-pointer way from being national champions. The Tigers run was ended by the Jayhawks, a 78-63 loss.

Team MVP – Miah Davis (14.7 ppg, 3.1 apg, 34.5 mpg)

Top Scorer – Miah Davis (14.7 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Christian Maraker (5.9 rpg)
Top Assists – David Doubley (3.3 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Tom Cockle (Graduating)
Miah Davis (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
David Doubly; Senior Guard (8.0 ppg, 3.3 apg)
Christian Maraker; Junior Forward (12.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

In 2003-04 Head Coach Bob Thomason recorded his 300th career coaching victory.

Much like Utah State, the Tigers will lose their leading scorer. Although the departure of Davis is a huge blow to a program that is on the rise, Pacific will retain its second leading scorer, top rebounder and leader in assists. If they can account for Davis’ scoring, the Tigers may have a shot to get repeat birth in the NCAA tournament.

UC Santa Barbara Gauchos 16-12, 10-8 Big West

The Gauchos were coming off an 18-14 campaign coming into 2003-04 and had high hopes for the season, considering they were returning four seniors to their starting five. After being picked to finish first in the Big West, hopes were high but the play did not the same expectations. The Gauchos lost five of their seven conference games in February, including games to conference top dogs Pacific and Utah State. This was the year everyone had expected UCSB to make a move towards the NCAA tourney, but now with the loss of four key seniors, their immediate future is in question.

Team MVP – Branduinn Fullove (10.6 ppg, 2.22 apg)

Top Scorer – Branduinn Fullove (10.6 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Cameron Goettsche (5.5 rpg)
Top Assists – Jacoby Atako (2.57 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Jacoby Atako (Graduating)
Branduinn Fullove (Graduating)
Nick Jones (Graduating)
Bryan Whitehead (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Cameron Goettsche; Junior Forward (8.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

Santa Barbara is losing its main core of talent which will hurt them in the short term. These types of players are hard to replace within a year and they lost a lot of the scoring punch which powered them to 16 victories a year ago. They do return Sophomore Joe See and Junior Cecil Brown, but the loss of four key contributors could be too much to over come. Check back come March.

Idaho Vandals 14-16, 9-9 Big West

Idaho returned a back court which combined to score 36.2 ppg in 2002-03. The trio of Tanoris Shepard, Dwayne Williams and Tyrone Hayes were some of the only bright spots for the Vandals who remain one of only two teams in the Big West not to reside in California (Utah State). The back courts’ scoring was down to 32.7 ppg in 2003-04, one of the obvious reasons for the lack of significant success. The Vandals were a respectable 9-4 at home, but lost 11 contests on the road including tough non-conference games against South Carolina, Gonzaga and Washington State.

Team MVP – Tyrone Hayes (13.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

Top Scorer – Tyrone Hayes (13.5 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Tyrone Hayes (5.7 rpg)
Top Assists – Dandrick Jones (2.97 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Tyrone Hayes (Graduating)
Rashaad Powell (Graduating)
Dwayne Williams (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Dandrick Jones; Senior Guard (2.97 apg)
Tanoris Shepard; Senior Guard (8.0 ppg, 26.5 mpg)

The Vandals lost two of their top scorers from a year ago and that will more than likely prove to be too high of an obstacle to overcome. Bringing back two experienced senior guards in Shepard and Jones will probably be enough to get the Vandals to the Big West Tournament, and anything can happen there.

UC Riverside Highlanders 11-17, 7-11 Big West

UC Riverside continued the trend of Big West teams in 2003-04 that have impressive records at home, but are down right terrible on the road. Going 2-12 on the road is the blue print to building a successful program but to the Highlanders credit, they played one stretch on the road where they visited Washington, Arizona State and UCLA, and only lost by an average of 12 points. The good news is that the future is bright because only two starters are lost to graduation, and one is not leading scorer Nate Carter (15.2 ppg).

Team MVP – Nate Carter (15.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg)

Top Scorer – Nate Carter (15.2 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Nate Carter (6.8 rpg)
Top Assists – Mark Peters (3.14 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Ted Bell (Graduating)
Kevin Butler (Graduating)
Mark Peters (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Nate Carter; Junior Guard/Forward (15.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
Vili Morton; Senior Forward (12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

One of the only teams in the conference to return their leading scorer, UC Riverside has a leg up on almost every other team in the Big West. Carter and Morton will be a formidable one-two punch which will be enough to bring the Highlanders back to the conference tourney and if they receive a top seed, could propel them to the dance.

Cal State Northridge Matadors 14-16, 7-11 Big West

Going into the Big West tourney, the Matadors were a No. 6 seed who was 11-15 at the time and no one gave a second look at. They survived the first day, then the second and soon found themselves on ESPN vying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Although they feel to Pacific, the Matadors blew away all the expectations and naysayers. It was one of the most impressive runs in conference history.

Team MVP – Curtis Slaughter (14.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.17 apg)

Top Scorer – Ian Boylan (15.8 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Lionel Benjamin (5.3 rpg)
Top Assists – Curtis Slaughter (4.17 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Curtis Slaughter (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Ian Boylan; Senior Guard/Forward (15.8 ppg)
Joseph Frazier; Senior Guard/Forward (6.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg)

The Matadors will not sneak up on anyone this season. They retained their core of players and should make a run back towards the NCAA tourney. Boylan is a year older and will challenge the league’s Player of the Year Award in 2004-05.

Cal State Fullerton Titans 11-17, 7-11 Big West

The Titans love to play basketball. This is evident in the fact that they led the Big West in overtime games played with four in 2003-04. Their record in games with an extra session was 0-4, a vast difference from 2002-03 when their record in overtime games was 5-1. To the Titans credit, they played a tough non-conference schedule with some success. They only lost by seven at Arizona State (83-76) and by six at USC (96-90). They won on the road at Pepperdine, 78-74.

Team MVP – Pape Sow (17.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg)

Top Scorer – Pape Sow (17.3 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Pape Sow (9.7 rpg)
Top Assists – Bobby Brown (3.46 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Derick Andrew (Graduating)
Anthony Bolton (Graduating)
Zakee Smith (Graduating)
Pape Sow (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Bobbt Brown; Sophomore Guard (12.2 ppg, 3.46 apg)
Yaphett King; Senior Forward (9.1 ppg)

Fullerton did not enjoy much success in 2003-04, and the future might not be much better. Although they have the conference newcomer of the year in sophomore point guard Bobby Brown, they lost Pape Sow, led the team in scoring and rebounding. More talent will have to emerge around Brown in order for the Titans to have any chance of making a run at the Big West crown.

Cal Poly Mustangs 11-16, 6-12 Big West

The Mustangs faired very well in their non-conference schedule, scoring wins against the Pac-10’s USC Trojans, 93-78, and California Golden Bears, 63-62. Both were road wins, and major victories at that. From then on however, the wins were less common and the ‘Stangs went 7-13. They played well going into the Big West Tournament, winning three of four, but fell in the first round to UC Riverside, 72-63.

Team MVP – Varnie Dennis (18.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg)

Top Scorer – Varnie Dennis (18.3 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Varnie Dennis (7.9 rpg)
Top Assists – Kameron Gray (3.15 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Varnie Jackson (Graduating)
Shane Schilling (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Nick Enzweiler; Senior Forward (8.4 ppg)
Kameron Gray; Junior Guard (3.15 apg)

The Mustangs will be without the services of their two leading scorers from the 2003-04 campaign in Dennis and Schilling. They will return their leading assistman and floor general in Gray. Davis did make up a large part of their offense, and he may be difficult to replace.

UC Irvine Anteaters 11-17, 6-12 Big West

The Anteaters won really half of their games against non-conference opponents, not a good sign. Some those five non-Big West contests were against notable opponents, Pepperdine, 85-83, and Princeton, 57-55. However, despite the 12 conference losses, they were only by and average of seven points. That translate into the Anteaters only being a short way away from being on the winning end of the score.

Team MVP – Adam Parada (12.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg)

Top Scorer – Adam Parada (12.2 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Adam Parada (6.6 rpg)
Top Assists – Jeff Gloger (4.21 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Matt Okoro (Graduating)
Adam Parada (Graduating)
Stanislav Zuzak (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Mike Efevberha; Senior Guard/Forward (11.1 ppg)
Jeff Gloger; Senior Guard/Forward (9.1 ppg, 4.21 rpg)

Like most teams in the Big West, Irvine will lose its leading scorer to graduation. Parada and Zuzak combined for 23 ppg, not an easy task to replace. Those two players were some of the main reasons why the Anteaters were close in as many conference games as they were, their graduation will be a tough pill to swallow for a program that is trying to make waves out west.

Long Beach State 49ers 6-21, 4-14 Big West

State, mostly known as a baseball power throughout the country, struggled in 2003-04 on the hardwood. Two of their four conference wins however came against No. 3 UC Santa Barbara at home, 63-63, and at No. 4 Idaho, 64-60, their lone road win of the season. Those were two of the few bright spots for a 49er team that finished last in the Big West, 13 games out of first place. Senior Kevin Roberts was someone the ‘9ers could hang their hat on, as he led the team in scoring 19 teams out of 27 games.

Team MVP – Kevin Roberts (15.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

Top Scorer – Kevin Roberts (15.7 ppg)
Top Rebounder – Kevin Roberts (6.4 rpg)
Top Assists – Kevin Houston (3.26 apg)

Starters Leaving:
Marcel Jackson (Graduating)
Kevin Roberts (Graduating)

Top Returnees:
Louis Darby; Junior Guard (6.6 ppg)
Jibril Hodges; Junior Guard (10.2 ppg)

The upcoming season is not too bright for the 49ers as Hodges is the only returning player from 2003-04 that averaged in double-figures. That is not a good sign for a team that had trouble scoring points, even with Roberts in the line-up. It appears as though State should get comfortable in the bottom of the Big West, because that where they will be at the end of the 2004-05 campaign.


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