When Long Beach State was stumbling through a series of unimpressive games, Coach Seth Greenberg said his team would develop into something special.
He believed improvement would be gradual and the turnaround would be complete by March.
It is, and while Greenberg’s prediction was based more on his ability to assess Big West Conference talent than see into the future, this much is known: Greenberg said it would be this way.
The first-place 49ers continued to make their coach look like a prophet Saturday night, winning their 10th consecutive Big West game, an 84-71 victory over UC Irvine before 5,003 at the Pyramid.
“We changed our point of emphasis to concentrate less on our opponents and more on ourselves,” Greenberg said. “We finally said, ‘Let’s work on Long Beach State getting better.’
“We devoted a lot of time to individual workouts during practice and the guys worked hard. That’s why this is happening.”
Forward Terrance O’Kelley led Long Beach, 17-7 overall and 13-3 in the conference, with 21 points. The Anteaters (9-15, 5-12) were led by guard Raimonds Miglinieks, who rebounded from a poor performance in his last outing with 18 points and 11 assists.
“They’re extremely athletic at every position,” Irvine Coach Rod Baker said. “If (center) Joe McNaull isn’t the biggest guy in the (conference), then he’s surely the most difficult to guard.”
Long Beach began the game tied with Utah State, but ended it alone atop the standings thanks to Nevada’s 90-75 victory over the Aggies. The 49ers haven’t had first place to themselves since the 1974-75 season.
Moreover, Long Beach set a school record for conference victories. The 49ers were 12-0 in the conference in 1973-74.
Long Beach outscored the Anteaters, 18-3, at the start of the second half to turn a 37-31 deficit into a 49-40 lead with 14:06 to play.
McNaull had 16 points and 14 rebounds for the 49ers.