March Madness marks the end for Dan Monson as Arizona blows out Long Beach State 85-65

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Turns out, there’s no such thing as job security when you’re coaching against Arizona.

Dan Monson learned that lesson Thursday in an 85-65 loss to the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament that slammed shut his 17-year tenure at Long Beach State.

Second-seeded Arizona scored 16 straight points over a five-minute stretch to turn a tight game into a laugher. At the end, Monson walked slowly off the court for the final time and blew three kisses to his school's small, tear-stained cheering section in the corner of the arena.

“It’s a range of emotions,” said the 62-year-old coach, who learned last week that this would be his final season with the Beach. “Mostly proud. Proud of my tenure. I’m proud of doing it the right way. Proud of the student-athletes that came in as young men, left as men.”

Sadly for Monson, Arizona is nothing like the teams Long Beach State beat last week in a surprising run through the Big West Tournament that sent the program to March Madness for the first time since 2012.

Kylan Boswell scored 20 points for the second-seeded Wildcats (26-8), who made 13 3-pointers, the program record for March Madness.

“You have to be almost perfect in a game like this,” Monson said. “The last five minutes of the first half, first five minutes of the second half, we just didn’t play good enough.”

The Wildcats, who also got 18 points and 11 rebounds from Caleb Love, will play Dayton, a come-from-behind 63-60 winner over Nevada, in the second round of the West Region.

Aboubacar Traore and A.J. George led the Beach (21-15) with 14 points each.

Before leaving the court, Monson shared a long hug at midcourt with his friend and protege, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. The locker room was, predictably, emotional.

“You see who loves you, how tight you are as a family when adversity comes,” Traore said. “I think we showed that to the whole country a week ago, when our coach got fired."

The game might have been a microcosm of Long Beach State’s season.

Over the first 17 minutes, the Beach were grabbing loose balls, protecting the rim, making the extra pass. A pretty no-look from Lassina Traore to George led to a layup, a 28-24 lead and an arena full of believers.

Then, things fell apart and it got ugly — maybe reminiscent of the five-game losing streak that led to all this.

Monson took two quick timeouts to start the second half — on the second, he stomped onto the court, jawing at guard Marcus Tsohonis and anyone who would listen after the latest in a long stretch of bad defense.

As the game wound down, the coach stood on the sideline, hands on hips. Neither he nor his players had answers for the Pac-12 regular-season champions, who spent a couple weeks early this season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.

After the game, Monson said his team accomplished two of its three goals — scoring more points in the paint (38-32) and grabbing more rebounds (50-47).

“And we said we've got to be tough enough to take good shots and take care of the ball because they turn those into transition points. That was one area where we got beat in,” Monson said.

Monson finished 275-273 in his 17 seasons at Long Beach. He said it felt better that his last loss came courtesy of Lloyd, who got his start when Monson hired him as a grad assistant before he left Gonzaga a quarter-century ago.

“As I told Tommy at the end there, if it’s got to be my last game, at least it’s with family,” Monson said.

They had dinner together in Salt Lake City earlier this week.

Monson now heads home. Lloyd needs to find a few more places to eat in Salt Lake. He knows friends like Monson aren't to be taken for granted.

“I’ve always been the little brother to all those guys, and sometimes little brother has got to fight back,” Lloyd said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t love Mons. I felt, like, tears starting to well up when I hugged him at the end of the game. It’s a lot.”

NO REPEAT

Arizona avoided a second straight first-round loss as a No. 2. Last year, Princeton upset the Wildcats in the opener. Monson spent Tuesday night’s dinner teasing Lloyd about how busy he was installing the Princeton offense.

FAMILY TIES

Monson's son, 6-foot-2 guard Maddox, was on the court for the final seconds of his dad's career at Long Beach State. He didn't get a shot or a rebound. He said it's been an emotional week for their family.

“I think a lot of people were unhappy with the changes made,” he said. “I think you’ll definitely see some movement and I still aspire to play for my dad. So if he’s not gonna be here, I don’t expect to be here. Some of the guys feel the same.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness