ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- For Aaron Nixon, all of his individual accomplishments don't compare to finally reaching the NCAA tournament.
Nixon had 29 points and a career-high 11 rebounds to lead Long Beach State to a 94-83 victory over Cal Poly for the Big West Conference tournament championship Saturday night.Nixon, the conference's player of the year, was named the tournament's most valuable player."All that other stuff, you could've given it to anybody," Nixon said. "We had one goal as a team, and that was to get to the NCAA tournament. I'm just happy that we turned it around and finally got over the hump."Kejuan Johnson added 24 points for the top-seeded 49ers (24-7), who used their 11th victory in 12 games to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. Kevin Houston had 17 points.Even Cal Poly coach Kevin Bromley was impressed by Nixon."I voted for him as the player of the year and he showed that he was the player of the year," Bromley said. "He went through a little stretch where he had some tough shots and he made them."Chaz Thomas scored a career-best 31 points for the second-seeded Mustangs (19-11), who snapped an eight-game winning streak. Dawin Whiten added 15 points and Derek Stockalper grabbed 12 rebounds.Long Beach, which trailed by 10 points in the first half, began the second half by making seven of nine shots during a 17-6 surge that put the 49ers ahead 47-41 with 16:54 to play."We went out a little too aggressive and were too anxious," Long Beach coach Larry Reynolds said. "But at halftime, I heard a lot of (players saying), 'We're just not making our shots. They'll go down. Keep shooting.'"That gave me the confidence to know that the guys were still with it, and there wasn't much that I needed to do."Cal Poly forced a 51-51 tie but Long Beach responded with a 17-4 spree to take a 68-55 lead with 6:17 left. Nixon led the run with nine points and Mark Dawson added six points.The Mustangs failed to score a basket for a span of 4:26 in the second half.Long Beach shot 56.7 percent in the second half after shooting 31.6 percent in the first half.