Long Beach State will return to McKale on Monday night in hopes of avenging a 94-72 loss to Arizona last season.
Both teams look pretty different, as the 49ers and Wildcats have lost numerous players since that game and added others that they hope will be able to make an impact.
Long Beach State defeated Hawaii Pacific 71-59 in the opener and got career efforts from point guard Mike Caffey and center Dan Jennings.
Caffey scored 27 points with nine rebounds, four assists, and four steals while Jennings finished with a career-high 17 rebounds. Both players are the main returners for the 49ers and will be the two that are relied on the most.
One of the main reasons why Arizona was able to win easily last season is because it held Caffey to three points on 1-7 shooting and Jennings to eight points and four rebounds. The player that hurt Arizona the most, Peter Pappageorge, has graduated as has James Ennis.
Both players combined for 33 of the total 72 points and the 49ers are hoping to replace that production with a returner stepping up and a JC newcomer.
Junior College guard McKay LaSalle is a 6-foot-3 guard that comes from Saddleback Community College and struggled mightily in his first game at this level. LaSalle fouled out in only 19 minutes because he could not handle the quickness of Hawaii Pacific. It is fair to say that he will have his work cut out for him with Nick Johnson, who should be able to bounce back from an average season opener.
David Samuels is a 6-foot-7 forward that enters the 49ers’ rotation from Collin Community College. He averaged 15 and 8 and opened the season with a similar 11 points and 8 rebounds. It is hard to truly know what Samuels brings to the fold, but the early reviews coming from Long Beach have been positive.
Junior forward Kris Gulley is the leading highest returning scorer from last season’s game against Arizona, as he scored 12 points in the contest. In his season opener, Gulley struggled and shot 1-9 from the field. He will likely get the task of guarding Arizona’s super freshman Aaron Gordon, who went for a double-double in his college debut.
Last year’s meeting between these two teams saw arguably Brandon Ashley’s best game of the season, as he went for 20 points and 10 rebounds on 6-6 shooting from the field. He did whatever he wanted and forced the 49ers to go small in an effort to get him out of his comfort zone.
Fast forward a year, and Ashley is a better player and finds himself on a team that has a different dynamic than the Arizona team Long Beach State saw last year.
For starters, Arizona has a true point guard in T.J. McConnell, who scored five points and had six assists in the season opener. In addition, it is unknown if Gabe York will be a starter, but he is going to have plenty of opportunity to make an impact like he did Friday night. York had a season-high 12 minutes against Long Beach State last season and there is a good chance that will increase if his 26 minutes against Cal Poly is any indication.
Monday night is a game in which the Wildcats are expected to win rather easily. It is also these type of games that require Arizona to win if it is going to have the type of season that many people, including the team itself, feel it should have.