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Long Beach Women Get Fired Up for USC, 91-70

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Angelique Lee, center on the Cal State Long Beach women’s basketball team, was thinking about the question, “Does the team get especially excited about playing USC?”

It was intended to prompt Lee, who Sunday afternoon played what she eventually conceded was her best game at Long Beach, to discuss the emotional aspect of what appeared to be an emotional game.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I saw everybody else getting pumped up to play USC. I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll get pumped up.’ ”

The 49ers’ charge began in the front line that helped beat USC, 91-70, Sunday before 1,300 at Loyola Marymount.

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USC (4-9) had set out to shut down Long Beach’s high-scoring guards, and did. Penny Toler had only 13 points and Traci Waites had just 11.

But Long Beach’s front line of Lee (15 points and 18 rebounds), Shameil Coleman (19 points and 3 blocked shots) and Cheryl Dowell (14 points and 10 rebounds) was the difference.

Long Beach also had 21 offensive rebounds to USC’s 7.

USC was running its offense with a freshman and sophomore at guards, and they combined for 14 of the Trojans’ 31 turnovers.

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Long Beach (10-4) had a 43-37 lead at the half. The 49ers, who have had trouble holding leads this season, then outscored the Trojans, 9-2, at the start of the second half.

USC Coach Linda Sharp said that Long Beach’s spurt in the first 5 minutes of the half put the Trojans in a difficult position.

“We just let it get away from us,” she said. "(Long Beach) people got their confidence.”

Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini said her team played with perhaps too much emotion in the first half, but it was to be expected in this rivalry.

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For Coleman, the on-court banter is the fun part.

“This is my fourth year playing USC,” she said. “It’s always like this. It has to be this way. As a matter of fact, I came out in the second half and made a point of talking out there to get things going.”

The talking and shoving between the teams resulted in 42 personal fouls in the 40-minute game.

USC center Cherie Nelson played in her second game since serving a 2-game suspension for disciplinary reasons. Nelson, a 6-foot 3-inch senior, is an intense player. Sunday’s game was no exception. Nelson was taunted by the Long Beach fans, whose verbal attacks intensified as the game progressed.

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Nelson was impassive at first, but had to be restrained at one point in the first half when she exchanged sharp words with Lee.

Lee said she was boxing out under the boards when she accidentally elbowed Nelson in the chest. “She got a little hostile,” Lee said.

Nothing Long Beach nor its fans did to unsettle Nelson had much effect, however, as she led all scorers in the half with 13 points.

She didn’t have a chance to do much more scoring, however, as she fouled out with 16:16 left in the game. Nelson picked up 3 quick fouls to start the second half. She finished with 15 points.

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Tammy Hammond, who led USC with 18 points, also fouled out.

USC got to within 11 points twice in the second half, but Long Beach, whose players were platooned throughout the game and were fresher, wore down USC with its fast pace.

Sharp was at a loss to explain her team’s 5-game losing streak, its longest since she has been coach at USC. Injuries and a tough schedule (11th-ranked Long Beach was USC’s sixth opponent in the top 20) have left her scrambling to come up with a healthy lineup.

“I don’t think we got soft,” Sharp said. “We didn’t get discouraged. We didn’t give up.”

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