Cal State Fullerton tops Pacific as Big West teams wrap strong nonconference showing – Orange County Register

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FULLERTON — The Big West Conference left a deep impression across the NCAA men’s basketball landscape during the nonconference portion of the schedule.

Opponents from UCLA to Michigan, as well as a handful of mid-major teams across the country, won’t overlook the Big West anytime soon.

“One of the most underrated conferences and least-respected conferences,” Cal State Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor said after the Titans wrapped up their nonconference slate with a 78-65 victory over visiting Pacific on Wednesday night, giving them seven wins before the start of Big West play for the first time in six years.

The latest head-turning triumph for the Big West came on Tuesday night, when Cal State Northridge ended UCLA’s nation-leading 29-game home-winning streak with a 76-72 victory.

The Matadors have their fourth head coach in seven years and returned just four players from a team that finished 7-25 last season. None of that seemed to matter against a Bruins team that is rebuilding after losing most of the core from a squad that went 29-5 last season and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

CSUN surged to a 14-point halftime lead before holding off a desperate push by the Bruins.

“This is a very historic moment for this program,” CSUN guard Dionte Bostick said on the team website.

As surprising as the victory was, it doesn’t register as the biggest upset victory for the Best West so far this season.

UC Irvine beat a short-handed USC squad, 70-60, on Nov. 14, back when the Trojans were ranked No. 16 in the AP Top 25. It was the Anteaters’ first win against the Trojans in 11 years.

Long Beach State traveled to USC on Dec. 10 and took the court in front of a sold-out crowd that included Lakers star LeBron James, who was at Galen Center to see the college debut of his son, Bronny James.

LBSU fell behind by 17 points late in the first half before rallying to win in overtime.

Nearly as impressive, Long Beach also scored wins at DePaul and Michigan in mid-November.

“Says a lot, in my opinion, about these coaches,” Taylor said. “A lot about their program and even more about their young men, in terms of their ability to go on the road, fight and stay together and find a way to win.”

What makes the nonconference success even more improbable is several of the top players in the Big West last season transferred to higher-profile programs, including three first-team all-conference selections.

One of those was Zyon Pullin, who helped UC Riverside to its best Division I record in program history last season, but decided to take his game to Florida as a graduate student.

That didn’t prevent the Highlanders from battling UCLA until the end on Nov. 30 at Pauley Pavilion.

UCR had possession and a one-point lead with 11 seconds left but turned the ball over and lost on a jump shot by Dylan Andrews with three seconds remaining.

In its other clash against a Top 25 opponent, UCI led then-No. 25 San Diego State by five points with less than a minute left on Dec. 9 before losing by one to the defending NCAA runner-up.

Other teams are beginning to notice how difficult it is to play the Big West this season.

The Anteaters traveled to New Mexico on Wednesday night for their final nonconference tuneup and were a step behind in the 78-65 loss.

UCI, which lost its two leading scorers from last season to other programs, came into the game ranked No. 55 in the NCAA NET rankings, while New Mexico was ranked 27th.

The Titans, who had to overcome the departure of their best player from last season as well, found themselves in a tight battle with Pacific from the start.

The score was tied 48-48 with just less than 10 minutes left when the Titans buckled down and outscored the Tigers 30-17 the rest of the way.

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