ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Sterling Byrd had 20 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks to lead Long Beach State to a 77-63 victory over UC Irvine Friday in the semifinals of the Big West Conference tournament.
Aaron Nixon, the Big West's player of the year, added 16 points for the top-seeded 49ers (23-7), who will face either second-seeded Cal Poly or third-seeded Cal State Fullerton in Saturday's championship.Chuma Awaji scored 19 points for the fifth-seeded Anteaters (15-18). Patrick Sanders added 14.Long Beach held a 6-point lead before Awaji made two free throws to force a 35-35 tie with 31.7 seconds left in the first half. But Artis Gant's 3-point shot with three seconds remaining gave the 49ers a 38-35 halftime lead.The 49ers began the second half with a 12-2 surge that extended their lead to 50-37 with 15:31 to play. Byrd and Nixon each scored five points in the run.Irvine missed its first six shots in the second half and did not score a basket until 6:10 expired in the half.