Photos LBSU vs UC Irvine ANAHEIM – What had all the appearance of a basketball game that was going to be an affair of the nip ‘n tuck variety needed just 4 minutes to change complexion Friday night in the Anaheim Convention Center. That’s how long it took the Long Beach State 49ers to seize a 13-point advantage early in the second half against UC Irvine Anteaters and then push themselves into tonight’s Big West Conference title game with a 77-63 victory. The 49ers, with their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1995 on the line, will take on Cal Poly or Cal State Fullerton in the 8 p.m. final. Coach Larry Reynolds’ team improved to 23-7 while getting double-figure scoring from four players, led by forward Sterling Byrd, who had game highs with 20 points and 11 rebounds while blocking a couple of Nic Campbell jump shots for good measure. The 49ers, who lost to Pacific on the same floor a year ago, will be playing in a second consecutive conference championship for the first time since 1978. They beat San Jose State in the ’77 title game and lost to Fullerton the following March. Big West Player of the Year Aaron Nixon of Long Beach was limited to 27 minutes because of foul problems (he scored 16 points and had four assists before fouling out with 2:39 to go) and first-team all-conference selection Kejuan Johnson scored a career low four points in 33 minutes. But the 49ers’ got more than enough offensive production elsewhere, as Kevin Houston and Dominique Ricks, with 11 points apiece, joined Nixon and Byrd in double figures. Mark Dawson and Louis Darby scored six points apiece off the bench, while sophomore Artis Gant, who had hit just two of 20 shots behind the arc on the season, banked in 3-pointer three seconds before the halftime buzzer to give the 49ers a 38-35 lead at intermission. “When teams try to take Aaron and Kejuan away from us, we have other guys who can step up and hit shots,” Byrd said. A Nixon 3-pointer with 15:32 to go capped a 12-2 run to start the second half and Long Beach never led by fewer than 10 points the rest of the way. “It was good to get out and get playing,” Reynolds said, referring to his team drawing a bye into the semifinals after Irvine had played the previous two evenings to advance that far. “Obviously we had a little rust in the first half and didn’t shoot well. But I thought our guys did a good job of taking the ball to the basket to create free-throw opportunities (they were 22 of 29 from the free-throw line for the night). And we came out with some pizzazz and fight in us in the second half.” Irvine (15-18) had shot more than 50 percent from the field in both games while handing the 49ers their last conference loss (88-84 on Jan. 25) and losing an 85-80 decision in the Walter Pyramid on March 1. But Reynolds’ team played some of its best half-court defense of the season while holding the Anteaters to .426, in large part because they missed 16 of 23 shots after intermission. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
In-form India pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar says not losing the ability to swing the ball despite adding extra pace to his armoury has made him a much better bowler than what he was two years ago.Kumar, along with Jasprit Bumrah, has formed a potent new ball combination in the limited-overs cricket for India.They are also an asset for the team in the death overs with their perfectly placed yorkers and other variations. And their coming of age has not gone unnoticed with skipper Virat Kohli praising them highly after the series levelling win against New Zealand in Pune on Wednesday.However, maintaining the balance between swing and pace was not easy for Kumar, who suddenly lost his natural ability to move the ball after adding extra pace. Now he has got his mojo back, courtesy India bowling coach Bharat Arun.”He is somebody who manages bowlers really well. At this level you don’t want to get too much into the technique. He sometimes pinpoints certain things which can really improve your bowling. For example, I increased my pace but I lost my swing. I did not know how to go about it.”So he shared some fine points that helped me get my swing back. His role in the team is invaluable,” said Kumar ahead of the series decider against New Zealand in Kanpur on Sunday.Bhuvneshwar has not just worked on his bowling over the past two seasons but also on batting, which has made him a handy player in the lower-order.advertisement”As a player I feel I have grown in the past couple of years. I have improved my pace without losing on the swing. That is something I am really happy about. In batting also I have improved a bit,” he said.Talking about the three-ODI series, which is currently tied 1-1, Kumar said it will be another pressure game tomorrow after the second ODI in Pune, considering the team has not been pushed to the limit like this in a long time.If India win, it will be their seventh series victory in a row.”We have not been challenged like this in a while and it is a short series. So there was pressure in the last game that we could lose the series (having lost the first match). But the way we came back shows the character of the team. Tomorrow’s match is also about handling pressure. We will try to play like we played the last game,” said the pacer.Asked about the approach in a three-match series compared to a longer one, Kumar said: “It is a short series but mental approach is the same as any other series. But as I said, we have not been challenged in a while at home, so everyone is looking forward to the challenge.”Kumar further said that playing against familiar foes like New Zealand can work both ways. Most of the top Kiwi players feature in the IPL including captain Kane Williamson and Trent Boult, who have been Kumar’s teammates at Sunrisers Hyderabad.”Last series I played against New Zealand the planning was easy, it is the same for them also. Knowing them well and vice versa makes planning tougher. So it is a positive as well as a negative,” he insisted.Asked about his views on WADA threat on derecognising NADA if BCCI refuses to come under its purview, Kumar refused to get into the controversy, saying, “We have no say in the matter. It is up to the ICC and BCCI to decide. We will follow their instructions.