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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No. 2 Arizona MBB faces No. 15 Long Beach State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament

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Olivia Malone
The Arizona men’s basketball starters huddle before their game against Cal on Feb. 1 in McKale Center. By halftime, they had a 48-28 lead over the Golden Bears.

The No. 2 seed Arizona men’s basketball team (25-8, 15-5 Pac-12) heads into the NCAA Tournament where it will face No. 15 seed California State University, Long Beach, on Thursday, March 21, at 11 a.m. in Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Wildcats faced an upsetting 67-59 loss in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament at the hands of the University of Oregon on Friday, March 15

Then on Selection Sunday Arizona found out that it was in the West Region as the No. 2 seed. After an early exit last season to No. 15 Princeton University, Arizona will be looking to handle its business early, only focusing on the game right in front of them. 

History vs. Long Beach State

The slim history between Long Beach State and Arizona began in 1987, as the two programs continued to meet seven times following the encounter, with the most recent matchup being in 2019, where Arizona won 104-67. The Wildcats have a firm 7-0 series lead against the Sharks and this will be their first time seeing each other in the NCAA Tournament.

Long Beach State players to watch

Over the season, the Sharks have accumulated a 21-14 overall season record and a 10-10 conference record under head coach Dan Monson who is in his 16th season leading Long Beach State. The Sharks are currently on a three-game win streak heading in their 10th NCAA Tournament appearance with five players averaging double-figures. 

Senior Marcus Tsohonis leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.8 points per game while the guard has averaged 21 points in his last five games for the Sharks. The senior scored a game-high 35 points against the University of Michigan and 28 points shortly after in a game against USC, showcasing his offensive prowess. Additionally, Tsohonis was named an All-Big West Second Team honorable mention during the Big West men’s basketball awards and put up 2.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds in addition to his scoring.

Being named an honoree as a part of the All-Big West Second Team selections, Lassina Traore is a defensive tool for the Sharks, as the forward leads the team in rebounding, averaging 10.4 rebounds per game. Traore has tallied 15 double-doubles this season, while managing to also average one, scoring 12.1 points per game, and 1.2 assists alongside his rebounding. Coming off a 25-point game against the University of California, Davis, the 6-foot-10 forward has shown his dominance on both ends of the floor for Long Beach State moving into the tournament.

Jadon Jones is one of the players for Long Beach State who averages double figures and plays a vital role on the offensive side of the ball. Jones is the Sharks second-leading scorer averaging 12.2 points per game. Named a previous Big West Defensive Player of the Year in 2021-2022, Jones has totaled 58 steals this year while leading the team with 1.8 steals per game. The junior shoots 37.9% from beyond the arc, making 2.3 made 3-pointers a game, the most out of the team. Jones adds on 1.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game for the Sharks, being a source for the team to go to in multiple areas of the game.

Wildcats to watch

Keshad Johnson has been a defensive threat all season long, as the senior is second when leading the team in rebounding, averaging 5.7 rebounds per game and has grabbed 25 in his last five games. Johnson was named an honorable mention to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team as the 6-foot-7 forward is coming off scoring 8 points, three assists, three rebounds and two steals in the loss against Oregon. Johnson is one of four players for Arizona averaging double figures, putting up 11.6 points per game and 1.9 assists per game.

Oumar Ballo’s combination of his offensive and defensive talents on the floor has been a reason for how the senior impacts the game, leading Arizona in rebounding with 10.1 rebounds per game and second when leading in scoring, averaging 13.1 points per game on 64.9% shooting. Despite the loss to Oregon, Ballo received his 18th double-double of the season, putting up 14 points, and 12 rebounds against the Ducks. Ballo has been named a member of the Pac-12 All-Defensive team. The All Pac-12 First Team additionally had a game-high five blocks on the same night.

Caleb Love, who was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and is part of the All Pac-12 First Team, has been a valuable player and a consistent scorer for Arizona but has seen a decrease in production as the guard has scored on only 7-34 shots in his last three games played. Love was asked about his scoring struggles in a press conference on Monday.

“I wasn’t really in a rhythm but, like I said, it happens, you go through a little stress […]. I think I just want to put that behind me, and [I] got that reset button and I’m ready to go for March Madness.” Love remains the Wildcats’ leading scorer, averaging 18.1 points per game, 3.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

Earlier in the press conference, the Wildcats were asked about their opinion on the bracket draw and heading on the road to start the tournament.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time. We’re focusing on Long Beach State right now, not looking too far ahead at any other games, and so I think we got that mindset of just taking it one game at a time and [focusing] on one task at a time.” Love said.


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