LEFT COAST LAYUPS WITH RAPHIELLE JOHNSON: TRANSFERS SPARKING CAL STATE FULLERTON IN BIG WEST
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By Raphielle Johnson
One of the story lines heading into a season is the impact that newcomers, be it freshmen, junior college imports or transfers, can have on a program. Conventional wisdom would have it that a team can’t be successful relying heavily on transfers, but there’s been some evidence to the contrary in college basketball. Iowa State has received the majority of the press due to their play in the Big 12, leaning on the likes of Royce White (Minnesota) and Chris Allen (Michigan State) to lead them to a 7-4 record in Big 12 play.
But the Cyclones aren’t the only team to receive such a boost, as Bob Burton’s Cal State Fullerton Titans have bounced back from an 11-20 campaign and are currently tied for second place in the Big West (15-7 overall, 7-3 conference). Three transfers in their first season of eligibility at Fullerton rank among the team’s top four scorers: Kwame Vaughn (San Francisco), D.J. Seeley and Omondi Amoke (California).
The Titans made quite a statement to the rest of the league on Saturday night as they beat reigning NCAA tournament representative UCSB 99-86, and Vaughn was outstanding in leading the way. Vaughn, who was named Big West Player of the Week on Monday, scored 37 points while also accounting for six rebounds and six assists in according to Statsheet.com’s numbers was his second-best outing of the season when taking offensive efficiency into consideration.
Vaughn’s week against Cal Poly and UCSB came on the heels of arguably his worst performance of the season in a loss at Long Beach State, and while the 49ers are the class of the Big West the quick improvement that the USF transfer made shows what he’s capable of as the season reaches its climax. Seeley is Fullerton’s leading scorer with an average of 16.5 points per game while ranking second on the team in rebounds (5.2).
Like Amoke, the wing who couldn’t find consistent minutes in Cal’s rotation has taken full advantage of his opportunity at Fullerton. But while some transfers can enter their first season with the thought that “it’s my time to shine”, Seeley hasn’t played selfishly. In fact that goes for all of these players, and that’s a big reason why they’ve already matched their league win total from last season.
But this story isn’t solely about first-year players, as guard Isiah Umipig is also a key figure in the Titans’ resurgence. If the Big West gave out a Most Improved Player award he’d be a prime candidate, as the sophomore has increased his scoring by nearly six points per game (up to 13.0 from 7.4 last season) while doubling his averages in both rebounds and assists. An additional 13 minutes per game can play a role in such increases, but the improvement in his offensive rating and effective field goal percentage is about more than just minutes.
Amoke (12.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg) has been the anchor in the front court for Fullerton but he hasn’t been alone, as Orane Chin is averaging 9.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Even Chin has experience as a transfer, as he’s played three seasons at Fullerton after beginning his career at San Francisco. A team that lost 20 games last season is now on its way to winning 20, and while the talent definitely was there that’s something few expected back in October.
Player of the Week: Weber State guard Damian Lillard
Averaged 37.5 points, 5.0 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game in wins over Portland State and Northern Colorado.
Game to Watch: Portland State at Idaho State (Thursday, 10:05 PM)
Before Monday night the Bengals were one of the hottest teams in the Big Sky, having one four straight games. But they ran into a team that was even hotter in Montana, who handed Idaho State a 76-40 whipping on Monday night. This contest is big due to both the chase for a home date in the quarterfinals and the fact that the Vikings are part of a four-team race for the final two spots in the conference tournament. Kenny McGowen’s played well for Idaho State of late while in Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott PSU has one of the conference’s most talented tandems.
Weber State, Montana punch tickets: With wins over Northern Colorado and Idaho State respectively, Weber State and Montana clinched spots in the Big Sky tournament. That comes as no surprise as the Wildcats and Grizzlies have been the two best teams in the conference all season long, but just as importantly they’re up four games on third with five to go. The top two teams advance to the semis in the six-team event, with the regular season champ hosting the semis and title game. These two will meet on February 28th at Montana, with the Griz looking to avenge their loss in Ogden earlier this season.
Player of the Week: Cal State Fullerton guard Kwame Vaughn
Averaged 25.5 points, 7.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game in wins over Cal Poly and UCSB (37, six and six against the Gauchos).
Game to Watch: UC Riverside at UCSB (Saturday, 10:30 PM)
Thanks in large part to BJ Sheary the Highlanders were able to end a four-game losing streak with a win over UC Davis on Saturday. Sheary scored 17 points and grabbed ten rebounds for Riverside, who was without the services of leading scorer Phil Martin as he missed the game for what head coach Jim Woolridge described as “personal reasons”. Obviously the game plan for both teams changes if Martin’s not available, but on the heels of their loss at Fullerton who’s on the floor shouldn’t matter much to UCSB. James Nunnally shot just 8-for-19 on Saturday night, and over the last three games he’s just 1-for-4 from the foul line (all four attempts came against Fullerton).
Race for fourth: At this point it seems pretty safe to say that UC Davis and Cal State Northridge are likely to finish in the bottom two of the Big West standings. But above these two, four teams are separated by just one game with three teams tied at 5-5 in league play. Riverside split their games last week with Phil Martin not playing, and his return will be critical if the Highlanders are to enjoy any thoughts of pulling an upset. Pacific and UC Irvine met on Saturday with the Tigers winning 72-64 in Irvine, and the fact that Bob Thomason’s team is 5-5 despite not having one player in the Top 15 in the Big West in scoring is simply amazing. At 4-6 is Cal Poly, a team led by David Hanson and Will Taylor featuring a slow tempo that’s led to the Mustangs allowing the fewest points per game in the conference.
Player of the Week: San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin
Averaged 20.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in wins over Boise State and TCU.
Game to Watch: #13 San Diego State at #14 UNLV (Saturday, 4 PM)
With UNLV losing at Wyoming on Saturday they’re now a game behind SDSU in the race for first place, and with a road trip to New Mexico on the horizon (the following Saturday) Dave Rice’s team needs to hold serve at home. The Aztecs won the first meeting by two on a Jamaal Franklin basket in the final seconds, and the way these two teams match up the rematch should be just as good. The key for UNLV will be the play of Chace Stanback, who can disappear at times and while Anthony Marshall and Mike Moser have been outstanding the Runnin’ Rebels can’t afford that to happen on Saturday afternoon.
Wyoming gets signature win: Larry Shyatt’s done one of the best coaching jobs in America as he’s taken a team that struggled mightily and turned them into a group that can challenge for an NCAA tournament bid. But the Pokes lacked a signature win for their resume until Saturday, when they beat UNLV 68-66 in Laramie. Leonard Washington, Paco Cruz and Luke Martinez have been the leaders scoring while JayDee Luster has taken better care of the basketball this season. There’s still a lot of work to be done but the fact that Wyoming is alive and well is quite the accomplishment.
Player of the Week: Arizona guard Kyle Fogg
Averaged 18.5 points, 4.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game in road wins over California and Stanford.
Game to Watch: Washington at Oregon (Thursday, 11 PM)
The Huskies have won five straight games and are alone atop the Pac-12 standings, but a trip south could spice thing up for the stretch run. Dana Altman’s Ducks are likely still smarting over their controversial loss at Colorado, and with the likes of Devoe Joseph and E.J. Singler they’ve got the tools needed to bounce back. Can Tony Wroten make plays while playing under control and getting his teammates involved? What will Washington get from Abdul Gaddy? Those are two key questions for Lorenzo Romar heading into Eugene, and a road sweep would give Washington a huge boost when it comes to winning the league.
Wildcats sweep Bay Area: No Kevin Parrom as he was finished for the season with a broken bone in his right foot going into games at Cal and Stanford. No Jordin Mayes against Stanford as he went down with a foot injury on Thursday night. But Sean Miller’s team fought through the adversity to get a much-needed sweep and revive their NCAA tournament hopes. Veterans Jesse Perry, Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill have led the way while freshmen Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner have improved throughout the course of the season. A team that was left for dead due to injuries now has a legitimate shot of getting back to the Big Dance.
Player of the Week: BYU forward Brandon Davies
Averaged 16.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game in wins over Gonzaga and Portland.
Game to Watch: Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga (Thursday, 11 PM)
To say the least this is a big one, from both a rivalry and a conference title standpoint. The Gaels are up two games in the loss column as they visit Spokane, and a win would essentially end the race for all intents and purposes. Gonzaga on the other hand finds themselves in a fight not just to get closer to Saint Mary’s but to also hold off BYU in the race for that final double bye in the WCC tournament. For that to happen Elias Harris needs to be at his best, something easier said than done against Rob Jones. And Brad Waldow has been quite the revelation for Saint Mary’s, who also boasts on of the country’s best point guards in Matthew Dellavedova.
Cougars back in the race: The big result from last week was BYU’s 83-73 win over Gonzaga in Provo, moving the Cougars to within a game of Gonzaga in the loss column and keeping them tied for third with Loyola Marymount. Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock have led the way for Dave Rose’s team, and a key for them down the stretch could be the shot selection of guard Matt Carlino. While he can certainly score the UCLA transfer needs to remain under control when looking for his opportunities, making sure to get the big men involved as well.
Player of the Week: Hawai’i forward Joston Thomas
Scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Warriors’ 83-81 win over San Jose State.
Game to Watch: Nevada at Hawai’i (Thursday, Midnight)
Thanks to their loss to Idaho the Wolf Pack saw their lead shrink to just one game in the WAC standings in the loss column (8-1 to New Mexico State’s 6-2), making their trip out to the islands even more important. Deonte Burton has been the best player in the WAC thus far but Dario Hunt and Malik Story need to bounce back from quiet showings in their last outing, and Hawai’i will counter with frontcourt studs Joston Thomas and Vander Joaquim. The Warriors are a tough team to beat at home simply because of the travel, so keep an eye on Nevada’s energy level early on.
Vandals hand Nevada their first loss: With the 72-68 win Don Verlin’s Vandals moved to 5-4 in WAC play, putting them a game behind Hawai’i in the loss column. Stephen Madison scored 18 points and Kyle Barone and Deremy Geiger added 16 apiece for Idaho, who hosts New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech this weekend. But how high they can climb will ultimately be determined by their three-game road trip to end the season, and that win at Nevada should boost their confidence in that area (6-6 road record).