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Big West weekly review-preview

After the first week of Big West Conference games, only two teams still have a shot at going undefeated during the conference season. UC Riverside is 2-0 and UC Irvine is 1-0. Each of the other seven teams in the conference lost at least one game during the opening week.

Translation: parity is prevalent in the Big West. Here is a look back at last week, and a look ahead to this week.

● Is UC Riverside for real?

Believe it or not, the Highlanders have never – repeat, never – been in contention for the Big West regular-season championship since they joined the conference in the 2001-02 season. Their best conference season was an 8-8 record in 2009.

UCR scored a road win at UC Davis, 65-59, last Thursday, then returned home to beat Cal State Fullerton by the same 65-59 score.

The Highlanders have suffered 20 or more losses in each of the previous three seasons, but are 12-6 overall this season.

● Can UC Irvine dominate again?

Coincidence or not, the Anteaters played just one home game last week, beating Hawai’i, 74-60.  This week, they travel to Cal State Fullerton, then host UC Riverside in what could be an early-season showdown for first place.

UCI finished 15-1 in the Big West regular season last year, and then swept through the conference tournament. If they rebound and defend like they did against Hawai’i last Saturday, the Anteaters will be a tough team to beat … again.

● Will the real CSUN please stand up?

The Matadors opened the conference season with a convincing 95-77 home victory over Long Beach State. Three days later, they got routed on the road at Cal Poly, 74-56.

Cal Poly entered the game as the lowest-rated Big West team, and one of the lowest-rated teams in the nation (currently at 312 out of 353 teams in the NET rankings).

● Last week’s best game

Long Beach State 55, UC Santa Barbara 52. Of the eight games played during the opening week, this was the only one decided by less than five points. The 49ers trailed by eight early in the second half, and did not take their first lead until there were five minutes remaining in the game.

It was also an exercise in futility, as Long Beach State out-scored UCSB 3-0 in the final 4:40 of the game. The Gauchos went 0 for 8 from the field, 0 for 1 on free throws, and committed three turnovers in the game’s final 4:30.

● Player of the Week

UC Irvine’s Brad Greene was named the Big West Conference Player of the Week after a record-setting rebounding performance. The 6-foot-11 junior center had 13 points and 21 rebounds in the Anteaters’ 74-60 win over Hawai’i.

Greene’s rebound total set a new record for a game played in the Bren Events Center, which opened in 1987. The previous arena record was 18 rebounds by Cal State Fullerton’s Cedric Ceballos in 1990.

● Games to watch this week

UC Riverside at UC Irvine, Saturday. As mentioned above, these are the only unbeaten teams after the first week of conference play. Both teams, however, have games earlier in the week. UC Irvine will travel to Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday, and UC Riverside hosts enigmatic CSUN on Thursday.

UC Santa Barbara at Hawai’i, Saturday. These two had the best non-conference records among Big West teams, and are expected to be in the top tier of the conference. Interesting scheduling note – Hawai’i hosts Cal Poly on Thursday; UCSB is off until the Saturday game at Hawai’i.

Big West Conference
Wednesday’s Games

UC Irvine at Cal State Fullerton

Thursday’s Games
CSUN at UC Riverside
UC Davis at Long Beach State
Cal Poly at Hawai’i, 8:00 p.m. (Hawai’i time)

Saturday’s Games
UC Davis at CSUN
Cal State Fullerton at Long Beach State
UC Riverside at UC Irvine
UC Santa Barbara at Hawai’i, 8:00 p.m. (Hawai’i time)

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