Road-tested Long Beach State faces UCLA

49ers are coming off a victory at Kansas State, with a tough schedule ahead

The Long Beach State men's basketball team already had a demanding schedule to start the season, and that was before the plane troubles.

The team landed in Chicago last week on the way to play Xavier. Mechanical problems led to a flight cancellation, and a lack of charter buses left the 49ers with an unusual mode of transportation: a brand-new party bus, complete with neon lights.

"It wasn't really a party," Long Beach Coach Dan Monson said. "But it got us there."

Long Beach lost, but the return trip was more productive, if less eventful. On Friday, the 49ers beat Kansas State, which was a few votes shy of the Associated Press top 25.

UCLA leaves next week to take on a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field in the Bahamas. But first, the Bruins will face the 49ers, already a battle-tested, if road-weary opponent.

"Our toughest test to date," UCLA Coach Steve Alford said.

Alford would know. While the coach at Iowa, Alford met Monson's Minnesota teams 14 times. Alford holds a 9-5 advantage in the series.

The two also occasionally golf together, though less often now, Monson said, with their busier Los Angeles schedules. At the annual preseason Wooden tipoff luncheon in October, Monson joked that he was jealous of Alford's golf game. Monson couldn't compete.

"It would be like me being in a free-throw contest with him," Monson said. "There's no chance."

The friendship, though, has yielded a robust scouting report for Monson. He said he watches every UCLA game.

Monson said Alford tweaks his system to fit his personnel. This season, the Bruins' transition game has been especially impressive. Before the 49ers lost to Brigham Young this season, Monson told his team the Cougars would be the best transition team they'd see all year. Before Saturday morning's practice, Monson apologized to his players.

"I hate to say this," Monson said. "But I was wrong."

The real answer, Monson concluded, was UCLA.

UCLA has averaged 101 points a game in its first three games, all easy victories, but Long Beach cooled Kansas State's shooting in Thursday's win. The Wildcats shot just 33% from the field. The 49ers' intensity, Monson said, improved on "horrendous" defensive efforts in the previous three games.

When UCLA played Coastal Carolina, Alford warned that the Chanticleers' experience would find ways to disrupt the Bruins' offense. The 49ers have even more experience: All five starters are seniors. Guard Mike Caffey averages 18 points and four assists.

Long Beach has just started one of the toughest nonconference stretches in the nation. After UCLA, the 49ers  play No. 8 Louisville, No. 10 Texas, No. 16 San Diego State and No. 24 Syracuse.

If the 49ers can muster two more wins, Monson will move past Jerry Tarkanian for the most wins in school history.

"I may not be a great golfer," Monson said, "but I'm a good recruiter."

UCLA SUNDAY

vs. Long Beach State

When: 7.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.

Records: UCLA 3-0, Long Beach State 2-2.

Update: The Bruins are averaging 101 points per game through the first three games, but the schedule gets tougher starting Sunday. The 49ers, who have one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country, are fresh off a 69-60 win over Kansas State on Friday.

zach.helfand@latimes.com

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