Arizona basketball: 49ers learning from acid tests

Cats just one of many tough nonconference foes on LBSU's slate
2012-11-19T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:21:48Z Arizona basketball: 49ers learning from acid testsBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Long Beach State will be playing its third major-conference team in seven days tonight, and its second ranked team in four days.

But the 49ers' date with Arizona tonight at McKale Center is not about suicide. Nor is it just about the money.

It's about philosophy.

The coach of Long Beach State is none other than Dan Monson, the same guy who, at Gonzaga, brought to light the concept of playing a rugged nonconference schedule as a way to prove a team's worth no matter what conference it came from.

Monson took the don't-dare-call-us-midmajor Zags out of the West Coast Conference to the NCAA Elite Eight in 1999 before he left to take over at Minnesota, where he spent seven-plus seasons before resigning in 2006-07.

In his sixth season at Long Beach State, Monson has already led the 49ers to back-to-back Big West titles while playing perennially tough nonconference schedules. And even though he lost four starters from last season's team, he still put USC, North Carolina, Arizona, UCLA, Syracuse and Ohio State on this season's schedule.

"You gravitate to what you had success with," Monson said. "At Gonzaga, we had success playing the teams we thought we could play. We don't want to be a midmajor team and in order for that not to happen, you've got to play the top teams.

"The great thing about college basketball is you can be a BCS-level program and not be in a BCS league. That's our goal and that was my goal at Gonzaga."

Under Monson's replacement at Gonzaga, Mark Few, the Bulldogs have continued to succeed nationally with tough schedules while teams from midmajors such as George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler have reached the Final Four.

"I think it's changed because more people have confidence that you can make a midmajor into a BCS-level team," Monson said. "When we did it at Gonzaga, that really hadn't happened before so I always had great pride in that."

UA coach Sean Miller, of course, also came from a program at Xavier that also fought the midmajor tag vehemently. In 2007-08, in fact, Rivals.com tried to name Xavier guard Drew Lavender its "midmajor player of the week" - and the school turned down the honor.

Miller said he didn't know Monson personally but has had respect for his programs over the years.

"He's a very good coach, very accomplished and has coached in the biggest games and the best conferences," Miller said. "He does an incredible job with his team. He had a great team last year and I know when you do that you can really build on it and that seems to be what they're doing."

So when Arizona asked Long Beach State for a one-time date this season, Monson said he quickly agreed. Miller was impressed to see tonight's game follows ones against USC and North Carolina, teams that LBSU played competitively against for most of the game until fading late.

"It tests them and breeds that toughness that we all love about our teams, that we love if we can get it," Miller said. "I believe that they're a tough-minded bunch. They're a confident group."

Yes, they are.

"We're not intimidated" by Arizona, said Long Beach State big man Dan Jennings, a transfer from West Virginia. "We have one of the toughest schedules in the country. We have three more ranked games after this and we're up to the challenge. We learn from all of our games."

On StarNet: Join a live fan chat during the UA-Long Beach State game for comments, tweets, updates and more at live.azstarnet.com

Today

• Who: Long Beach State (1-2) at Arizona (2-0)

• When: 7 p.m.

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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