The CSUF men’s basketball team will start their run for a second consecutive Big West title against UC Davis today in the first round of the Big West Tournament at the Honda Center.
The Titans go into the tournament ranked third after finishing conference play at 10-6. CSUF will play the Aggies for the third time in their past six games.
Senior guards Kyle Allman Jr. and Khalil Ahmad lead the Titans with each averaging 17.8 points per game, ranking fourth in the conference. The Big West recognized the duo earlier this week, with Allman Jr. being named to the all-conference first team and Ahmad getting second-team honors.
“I think he (Ahmad) should’ve been on first team,” Allman Jr. said. “There wasn’t anybody on first team that was better than him.”
In their first meeting this year, the Titans defeated UC Davis 62-58, but the Aggies got revenge in the second meeting by taking CSUF down 66-59.
Turnovers proved to be the deciding factor in the Titans’ loss to UC Davis, as they turned the ball over 17 times, compared to UC Davis’ nine, which Allman Jr. knows his team can fix.
“(We’re) just trying to make simple plays instead of home run plays,” Allman Jr. said.
Even in the loss, CSUF still shot better than the Aggies by making 42.3 percent of their shots compared to Davis’ 37.7 percent. The Titans are ranked second in the conference in shooting percentage, this year at 45.7 percent.
Scoring has been a problem for UC Davis as they are ranked last in the conference in scoring, averaging 65.6 points per game (CSUF ranks third with 72.5 points per game). The Aggies are also at the bottom of the Big West in rebounding, at 29.9 boards per game.
Free throws will also play a key part in the game, as the Aggies are first in the conference from the free throw line, making 71.6 percent of their shots from the charity stripe, while the Titans are third at 69.9 percent.
Aggies’ senior guard TJ Shorts II leads the team in points per game at 14.7 and rebounds at 4.8. As a member of the all-Big West first team, Shorts II also leads his team in assists (4.2) and steals (1.6) per game.
Shorts II has been the X-factor in his team’s games against Fullerton this year, as he did not play in UC Davis’ loss at Titan Gym on Feb. 21 due to a knee injury. Shorts II returned to his team in the win at The Pavilion in Davis, notching a team-high 18 points, five assists and eight rebounds.
“He’s really hard to guard. He’s quick, has a lot of moves, he’s pretty explosive,” Allman Jr. said. “It’s a pretty hard task, but I think we could do it.”
With Fullerton returning to the tournament as the defending champions, Ahmad knows that his team will be the team to beat.
“We won it last year and everyone feels like that they should have beat us or could have beat us and that could have been them holding up the trophy, so there’s definitely a target (on our back),” Ahmad said.
Although the transparency in the Big West has been consistent with eight different champions in the past eight years, Allman Jr. believes his team’s experience will give the Titans a chance at back-to-back titles.
“We got the same team, we play the same way,” Allman Jr. said. “When we’re clicking, we’re hard to stop.”
Tipoff from the Honda Center will be at 2:30 p.m., or 30 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2 UC Santa Barbara against No. 7 Cal State Northridge. All first-round games will be streamed on ESPN3.