Long Beach State makes the short trek north to Pauley Pavilion on Friday for its season opener against No. 21-ranked UCLA with a tall task ahead of it.
Seven-feet tall, to be exact.
UCLA (1-0) began the 2018-19 season Tuesday with a 96-71 rout of Fort Wayne, and 7-foot freshman center Moses Brown made quite the debut. Brown scored 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the floor with 17 rebounds.
"When you think of first college games, 19 and 17 --and, again, only 10 shots -- Mo's just special," UCLA coach Steve Alford said in his postgame press conference.
The only facet of Brown's game that didn't shine in his debut was his 1-of-4 free-throw shooting.
"You don't make free throws, the fouls are going to get harder," Alford said he warned the freshman.
Beyond banking on missed foul shots, slowing UCLA will take an inside-out effort from a much smaller Long Beach State team replacing its low-post star of a season ago. All-Big West Conference Gabe Levin is gone, leaving the 49ers to replace output of 18.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
"Last year, we really kept the ball on the strong side a lot, and relied on Gabe and (Temidayo Yussuf) a lot," Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said in his season preview via the Long Beach State website. "We're trying to get more pace and space this year."
Long Beach State's retooled offensive approach made an impact in the 49ers' Oct. 27 exhibition win at Cal State Bakersfield. Six-foot-eight sophomore wing Jordan Roberts built off his productive finish to the 2017-18 campaign by scoring 14 points with 10 rebounds.
Coinciding with his efforts to introduce a more perimeter-oriented offense in 2018-19, Monson's team also debuts a defense he described as applying more pressure. The 49ers needed a shake-up on that side of the ball, ranking No. 254 in adjusted defensive efficiency a season ago per KenPom.com metrics.
An aggressive, ball-pressure strategy may be Long Beach State's best hope of an upset, with the Bruins acclimating sophomore Jaylen Hands as full-time point guard.
Hands ran the point in stretches a season ago, but more often played off-the-ball with Aaron Holiday at point. The Bruins also lack depth at the position, due to the season-ending knee injury freshman Tyger Campbell sustained last month.
Nevertheless, Hands debuted as starting point guard Tuesday with seven assists against just two turnovers. His 18 points were third-most among Bruins, behind Brown's 19 and guard Kris Wilkes' career-high 27.
At 13.7 points per game, Wilkes is UCLA's top returning scorer. The sophomore wing credited the Bruins' offensive output to having Brown in the post to exploit defensive rotations off of penetration.
"It's pretty good when you get down to the paint and have nowhere else to go, you just throw it up to Mo'," Wilkes said in the postgame press conference. "That helps out a lot."
Facing UCLA sets the tone for Long Beach State's typically difficult nonconference schedule, which has become something of a program signature under Monson. The 49ers faced West Virginia, Arizona and Michigan State on the road last season, and draw UCLA, Arizona State and Mississippi State in three of their first four this season.