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Long Beach State Not Ready for the Big Time : College basketball: 49ers are no match for Arizona, losing, 91-57, in Preseason NIT.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long Beach State might win the Big West Conference. The 49ers have standout guard James Cotton, a few other talented players and determination. That could be enough.

But that won’t do it against the Arizonas of the world.

The 49ers remain far behind the elite, a point repeated in the Wildcats’ 91-57 Preseason NIT victory Wednesday night before 13,824 at the McKale Center. Arizona started slowly in season opener for both teams, but eventually overwhelmed Long Beach with its superior size, athleticism and depth.

The 49ers knew what was wrong. But they couldn’t fix it.

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“They wore us down,” forward Juaquin Hawkins said. “They did a great job defending us and they’re a lot bigger. They pushed it into their big guys and we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Arizona Coach Lute Olson agreed.

“Our key was to maintain excellent defensive pressure in the half court,” he said. “We made them work on every possession.”

Long Beach took a 7-2 lead on a lob pass to Cotton, who scored a team-high 18 points, from point guard Rasul Salahuddin with 17:20 left in the first half. That was about it for 49er highlights with the outcome still undecided.

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The Wildcats raced ahead behind guard Reggie Geary and forward Michael Dickerson. A three-pointer by Geary with 13:17 to go in the half capped a 12-3 run, gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead and encouraged 49er Coach Seth Greenberg to call timeout.

“The guys were hitting me in the right spot all game,” said Geary, who had 16 points. “I’ve always been a streaky shooter and I was on tonight.”

As was Dickerson. He led Arizona with 19 points as he drove past would-be Long Beach defenders for dunks and layups whenever he chose. He made nine of 13 shots from the field, including all five of his first half attempts as Arizona took a 48-32 halftime lead.

“He’s a good offensive player,” Greenberg said. “He has good range and a nice [jumper]. He’s going to be a good player for a long time.”

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Greenberg tried to do what he could, mixing up the 49ers’ defense and substituting often. It didn’t help much.

Geary, unfazed by the 49ers’ attempts, passed to Dickerson, forward Ben Davis and center Joe Blair for easy baskets throughout a painfully long second half for the visitors. Midway through the second half, Greenberg knew his team was done.

“We started pressing and ended up with no ball movement,” Greenberg said. “We were put in a hostile environment and did not adjust to that.

"[But] I’m not going to panic because we lost to Arizona.”

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