Salahuddin's Balanced Play Gives Long Beach a Boost

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Opposing point guards now willingly concede certain things to Long Beach State's Rasul Salahuddin because, well, few can play defense the way he does.

And although Salahuddin revels in his growing reputation, there is more to his game. Want proof?

Pacific can provide the evidence.

Count the Tigers among the believers after Salahuddin scored a career-high 18 points Monday night in leading the 49ers to a 77-70 Big West Conference victory in front of 3,412 at The Pyramid.

Salahuddin made four of five three-point shots, helping Long Beach (7-4, 3-1 in the Big West) win its third in a row. The 49ers are third in the conference behind leader Utah State and New Mexico State.

"I know I can score, that's just not my role right now," said Salahuddin, who started the game averaging 7.9 points. "I made my shots, so maybe people will start believing I can score.

"But I've only done this for one game, so I guess I'll have to keep showing them."

Pacific Coach Bob Thomason has seen enough, thank you.

"He's been shooting a little better, but maybe I didn't expect for him to shoot as well as he did," Thomason said. "He was the difference in keeping them up big."

Salahuddin's three-pointer with 2:45 remaining gave the 49ers a 67-58 lead and sparked an exodus to the parking lot. He also had four assists.

The Tigers (7-6, 2-3) led, 31-30, with 17:44 to play. But a three-pointer by Salahuddin sparked a 10-0 run.

"Rasul made the big threes for us," Long Beach Coach Seth Greenberg said. "I thought he was really solid."

The Big West's leader in steals, Salahuddin teamed with swingman Juaquin Hawkins to disrupt the shooting of talented Tiger guard Adam Jacobsen. Jacobsen scored 18 points and made four of five three-point shots, but it could have been much worse.

"They played good (man-to-man defense) on us," Thomason said. "But I don't think they did anything to us that we haven't seen. I just think we made too many mistakes."

OK, but the Tigers did commit 21 turnovers. And Hawkins had three steals and Salahuddin two. And Pacific had problems getting shots off. And . . . well, Greenberg thought his defensive standouts had a little something to do with the Tigers' problems.

"If there are five better defensive players in the country than Juaquin, they must be something," Greenberg said. "He guards point guards, he guards forwards--he can guard anybody.

"The defense Juaquin played was as good as I've seen."

Hawkins also had a career-high eight assists and scored seven points. He too was pleased with his defense.

"Jacobsen is a great shooter, one of the best I've played against," Hawkins said. "But I'm about two or three inches taller than him and that really helped me."

Most of Hawkins' assists came on passes to center Joe McNaull, who played well for the third consecutive game with 15 points, 11 rebounds and one blocked shot. His play helped compensate for the absence of forward Mike Atkinson, who is out with an injured left foot.

"We've really been working on getting the ball to Joe," Hawkins said. "He's such a big target."

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