College Corner: Long Beach State hoops face big test

Nobody likes tests.

Students hate them, athletes hate them, even teachers hate them—they have to grade the stupid things.

The Long Beach State men’s basketball team has been many things under head coach Dan Monson, and they’ve certainly been tested. Monson was notorious for scheduling a brutal non-conference slate for many years, something that was both financially lucrative (as power conference teams often pay a financial guarantee to mid-majors) and a recruiting draw. If players felt they deserved to be at a top-25 program, as most players do, they’d at least know that signing with Long Beach State meant they’d get a chance to test themselves against those teams.

Most often, the team has come up short in those tests, the result of which has been Monson dialing back the strength of schedule and adding more mid-major opponents in recent years. But, on Thanksgiving last week, Long Beach State passed a big test in impressive fashion, coming back from a 17-points deficit to knock off Big East foe Providence, 66-65, in the first game of the Wooden Legacy tournament.

It’s the 12th win over a power conference program in Monson’s 13 seasons coaching the team.

“I was really proud that we got down 17, and chained back up as we like to call it, and got back into the game,” Monson said. “To see that get rewarded with a win will hopefully go a long way with a young team like ours.”

Michael Carter III scored 23 points with three steals and three assists, and the sophomore made three free throws in the final seconds of the game to put the Beach ahead. Long Beach State (3-6) would go on to lose to Wake Forest and Penn to close out the tournament.

Now, speaking of tests.

The problem with the way Monson’s rigorous schedule tests his teams is that Long Beach State does not play in a power conference. And, unlike the Gonzaga program Monson built, it’s obvious at this point that the Beach is not headed for multiple deep NCAA playoff runs in the short term.

So testing the team against national powers when in fact Long Beach plays in the middling Big West is a bit like cramming for the LSAT and then flunking it when you’re just trying to get into a creative writing program somewhere cheap.

All of that is to say that this Saturday’s test against Pacific figures to provide a truer test, the kind that will give Long Beach State and its fans a real preview of how the Beach will stack up against the mid-major teams in the Big West. The Tigers, who used to be in the Big West before joining the West Coast Conference, are 8-3 and are 2-1 against Big West programs this year, having beaten Fullerton and Riverside while losing narrowly to Hawaii.

The Beach were picked in the preseason Big West poll to finish sixth in the conference, one spot over Riverside and directly under Hawaii and Fullerton. If the team wants to signal that it can compete with favorites UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, Saturday’s 4 p.m. game in the Walter Pyramid would be a good time to do that.

History For Harward

One of our favorite Long Beach State volleyball players is also one of the best in the program’s history and, on Wednesday, we said goodbye to Hailey Harward, as the Beach lost its first round National Volleyball Invitational Championship match against Santa Clara in five sets.

Hailey Harward ends an exceptional career at the Beach and is now off to, well, the beach. Photo courtesy of Long Beach State.

Harward finishes as the third player in program history with more than 1,600 digs (that’s a lot of digs) and ninth in program history in service aces. Making that stat line even more impressive: she was recruited to Long Beach by longtime coach Brian Gimmillaro as a libero, but because of roster depletion due to injuries, she’s had to play outside hitter some years. She still ended up third on the all-time digs list.

“She could have played here in any era,” said Gimmillaro after he signed Harward.

She’s going to go on to be a star on the sand, and we look forward to following her career wherever it takes her.

Long Beach State Women’s Basketball

Long Beach State (2-5) continues to struggle with injuries but, like the men’s team, will hope to get positive results against mid-major opponents this week. Long Beach travels to Santa Clara for a Friday night game and Seattle for a Sunday game.

If you’re into women’s hoops, No. 3 Oregon is coming to the Pyramid next Saturday, Dec. 14. The Ducks were No. 1 all year until an upset loss last week. How good are they? They beat the United States women’s national team right before the season started, and star player Sabrina Ionescu is already considered one of the best players in NCAA history.

LBCC Basketball

The Vikings men’s team (4-2) is in Los Angeles for a tournament this weekend and then Santa Barbara next week. They won’t be home again until January when they host Golden West on Jan. 6.

The Vikings women (3-3) are off this week and playing in the LA Valley Tournament next week.

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Mike and JJ go together like mac and cheese: they’re best friends, business partners and Long Beach sports experts. They’ve been working together for over a decade covering Long Beach local sports and now run, a community-funded nonprofit media outlet.