ANAHEIM — The Long Beach State men's basketball team played North Carolina in the Dean Dome and battled Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season. The 49ers also won at then-No, 9-ranked Pitt and lost hard-fought road contests to Louisville and San Diego State.
But for a little more than 26 minutes in a Big West Conference Tournament semifinal against UC Irvine on Friday, no team had tested Coach Dan Monson's hardened veteran cast any more thoroughly than the Anteaters.
"I think we earned their respect tonight," said UCI Coach Russell Turner, whose No. 7-seeded squad duplicated the fast start it used Thursday to upset No. 2-seeded Cal State Fullerton in the quarterfinals, against the top-seeded 49ers at Honda Center.
Long Beach State (24-8), which eliminated UCI in last year's tournament quarterfinals and swept the two regular-season meetings this season, trailed, 9-0 and 11-5, as it opened the game two for 12 from the field.