COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT : Long Beach Still a Little Too Small for the Big Time : West: Utah uses height advantage and 49ers’ poor foul shooting for 76-64 victory.


The gap between Long Beach State and college basketball’s elite may be smaller, but it still exists.

That was painfully evident for the 49ers and their fans Friday as Utah clearly played at a higher level in its 76-64 victory in the opening round of the West Regional before 11,853 at the Boise State Pavilion.

The 49ers believed this was the year they would advance, after having lost in the first found of the 1993 tournament. But reality set in quickly.


Fourth-seeded Utah (28-5), champion of the Western Athletic Conference, overwhelmed the 13th-seeded 49ers (20-10) with their size and talent. Utah took control about midway through the first half, stayed cool through a few minor challenges and maintained a comfortable lead after halftime.

Utah’s depth and height and the 49ers’ typically horrid free throw shooting set the tone.

The Utes have four players 6 feet 9 or taller and Long Beach has one, 6-10 center Joe McNaull.

“When they went big, it caused us some problems when it comes to matchups,” Long Beach Coach Seth Greenberg said. “When we took Joe out of there, we were a pretty small team.”

McNaull did his best to keep the 49ers close, scoring 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

Utah Coach Rick Majerus made it tough for McNaull, though, by alternating centers Ben Melmeth, 6-10, and Michael Doleac, 6-11.

Consequently, Greenberg couldn’t afford to take McNaull out often. McNaull played 35 minutes and looked weary at times.


“That’s the way the WAC is,” said McNaull, a first-team All-WAC center at San Diego State before transferring to Long Beach last season. “They just keep sending big guys at you. The WAC is a big man’s conference.”

But McNaull impressed Utah’s big men.

“He’s a real strong player,” said Doleac, who had 10 points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes. “I got him when he was a little tired and he was still tough to move around. I was pushing on him as hard as I could.”

The 49ers began the game shooting 63.4% from the foul line, last in the Big West Conference, and they managed to be even worse than that, making only 12 of 26 free throws.

“We try to put certain people on the line at certain times,” Majerus said. “That’s why we were WAC champions.”

Said Utah star forward Keith Van Horn, who scored 21 points, “We knew they didn’t shoot free throws well. When it comes down to a close game, you got to shoot well from the line.”

Not that it was ever really that close.

Utah started slowly, and the score was tied at 14 after about 10 minutes. Van Horn, selected the WAC regular-season and conference tournament MVP, struggled at first and made only six of 17 shots.


“A lot of us haven’t played in the NCAA tournament before, and we were all really excited,” Van Horn said. “We were kind of rushing things in our offense at first but then we got into it.”

The Utes’ takeoff coincided with Majerus’ decision to go to point guard Mark Rydalch. Rydalch, who has had ligament surgery on both of his knees, made two three-point baskets in a two-minute stretch, sparking a 16-5 Utah run that gave the Utes a 30-15 lead with 4:32 left in the half.

Long Beach was also in trouble because standout forward Juaquin Hawkins, the 49ers’ best defensive player, picked up his third foul with seven minutes to play in the half. He was the only 49er capable of guarding Van Horn.

When he went out, Greenberg had to change his defense. Utah then went with a bigger lineup, causing more problems for the 49ers. Guard Brandon Jessie got into the flow then, and finished with a team-high 22 points.

“They really hurt us when Hawk went down and they went big,” Greenberg said. “I thought Hawk played Van Horn as well as you can, but Van Horn might be as good an offensive player at 6-9 as there is in the country.”

Long Beach did show a few sparks in the second half. Forward Terrance O’Kelley and reserve guard Eric Brown got aggressive, helping the 49ers rally.


Long Beach cut the Utes’ lead to 61-55 on a fast-break dunk by guard Rasul Salahuddin with 6:53 to play. Van Horn, frustrated by Hawkins’ tight defense, then shoved him on the ensuing possession.

But Hawkins missed both free throws and Melmeth pushed the lead back to eight with an offensive rebound and a five-foot hook shot.

“Had we made some free throws, we would have forced Utah to make some plays,” Greenberg said.