Upset at Pitt highlights Monson's journey

They still shake their heads sometimes when Dan Monson’s name is mentioned.

Minnesota basketball fans tend to dwell on Monson’s struggles throughout his seven-plus years with the program whenever they reflect on his tenure. Monson, Long Beach State’s head coach, left a blossoming Gonzaga squad to take over the Gophers in 1999. He followed Clem Haskins, whose tumultuous term ended with an academic scandal that rocked the program.

Seven games into the 2006-07 season -- the Gophers finished 9-22 that campaign -- Monson resigned. In the end, greener pastures in the Big Ten became a field of dead grass for Monson.

Monson said he’s thankful that Long Beach State gave him a chance even though he “was on the street.”

You have to know Monson’s history to appreciate his program’s 86-76 upset at No. 9 Pitt on Wednesday. The victory shattered history for the Panthers, who hadn’t lost a nonconference home game in 58 previous outings. For Monson, it highlighted the journey that started with a six-win season in 2007-08, which followed an ugly departure from Minnesota.

“Certainly, that’s been a great blessing," Monson said Wednesday night. "Things were tough at Minnesota, and I just feel really lucky that I found a place that wanted me, that fit my same vision and my same goals that Long Beach State has. That part is very gratifying for me.”

Long Beach State’s victory continued a string of early upsets by smaller schools. Akron, Kent State, Cleveland State and Middle Tennessee recorded wins over BCS schools within the past week.

Monson’s Long Beach State team possesses one of the key components that helped Virginia Commonwealth and Butler reach the Final Four last season: experience.

Veterans Casper Ware, T.J. Robinson, Larry Anderson and Eugene Phelps anchor the program. The four seniors scored a combined 59 points Wednesday. They anchored an LBSU attack that stunned Pitt with its offensive aggression and active defense. They cut off passing lanes and forced Pitt to take poor shots.

On offense, they outran the Panthers and hit 59 percent of their field goal attempts.

They achieved the victory in a building that’s been the site of just one other nonconference loss for Pitt. It was Long Beach State’s first win over a top-10 opponent since 1993.

“I’m proud of our guys, and certainly it’s a great win for our program and our university,” Monson said.

And it’s redemptive for Monson.

The 49ers have at-large potential. They’ve missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, losing back-to-back conference tournament title games to UC Santa Barbara.

With a nonconference schedule that features matchups against North Carolina, Kansas, Xavier and Louisville, the 49ers will have additional chances to enhance their at-large profile.

But Monson didn’t dwell on his team’s pending matchups against some of college basketball’s giants. He’s too worried about Saturday’s matchup against San Diego State.

“We’ve already talked about it,” Monson said. “They’re going to enjoy it for a day. The word ‘Pittsburgh’ is not in our vocabulary Friday morning when we get ready for San Diego State.”

That game-by-game approach makes sense for Monson and Long Beach State. Puts things in perspective.

And really, who cares about the past?