UC Irvine's Bill Mulligan is the kind of coach who stops the film of one of his players on a breakaway and breaks up his team with a line such as: "All he's thinking now is: Which dunk should I do?"
He even used to make regular appearances in his players' favorite bar for a postgame beer.
Cal State Fullerton's George McQuarn doesn't go for the "buddy" system. In an airport lobby the day after a loss, one of his players told a writer, "Please don't make me smile, Coach'll get real mad."
And these teams definitely reflect their coaches' personalities. Irvine is loose, self-confident and poised, but not particularly aggressivg. Fullerton is intense--get-down-floorburn intense.
Saturday night at Titan Gym, the two divergent coaching philosophies collided for the 11th time in the five years since the two coaches took over the programs at the cross-county rival institutions. And the outcome might have even made Bobby Knight smile.
McQuarn's Titans beat Mulligan's Anteaters, 84-74, in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. season finale before 3,145 in a preview of Thursday's first-round PCAA tournament matchup. Third-seeded Fullerton meets No. 6 seed UCI at 4 p.m. at the Forum.
The victory gives the Titans a 2-0 season series sweep and McQuarn a 6-5 lifetime edge over Mulligan, but the psychological advantage now goes to, well, it depends on whom you're talking to.
Fullerton guard Kevin Henderson, who scored 31 (27 in the second half) Saturday night: "We should have the advantage. We beat them twice and we both know that."
Said Titan forward Tony Neal: "It's really hard to beat a team three times in one year. I still remember two years ago when we beat (Cal State) Long Beach by 30 points and 20 (actually 14) points and then they beat us in the opening round of the tourney."
Said Mulligan: "One of two things will happen. Our guys will say, 'We can't beat them, it's impossible to beat Fullerton.' Or it'll work the other way. Who knows?"
Said McQuarn: "I don't think playing them a third time is much of a factor. Considering the rivalry and the game, I don't think there'll be an emotional letdown."
There were no letdowns this time around. UCI's Jerome Lee, for instance, spent almost as much time in the stands as he did on the court. There were a lot of bodies scattered around the floor. But it was a fast-paced, entertaining game and much closer than the final score indicated.
Like a lot of close college games, it came down to a free-throw shooting contest in the final minutes after a 35-minute see-saw battle. And--surprise, surprise--it was the Titans (who lost a bunch of games because of their inability to make pressure free throws last year) who came out on top.
Irvine, which made 30 of 31 free throws in a two-point loss at Las Vegas Wednesday, made just 2 of 8 in the last 4:41 Saturday. In the same period, Fullerton made 13 of 17 to ensure the victory.
Lee, who has become a master of the three-point range of late, made three in a row in the first half and had 12 first-half points as the Anteaters moved out to a 36-33 halftime advantage.
But Neal, who had limited high-scoring Irvine's Johnny Rogers to two points in the first half of the first meeting, was totally frustrating the 6-foot 10-inch center again. He had four at the half and finished well below his average with 14. (which included a couple of tip-ins).
"Neal did an outstanding job on Rogers," McQuarn said. "We had two objectives, to take away their transition game and to defend their interior game. In the second half, we did both of those very well."
Neal, whose 15 rebounds gave him the Fullerton single-season record (299 surpassing Edgar Clark's 294 in 1961-62), had one of his best games in an already storied four-year Titan career. He finished with 15 points, 6 steals and 4 blocked shots. Center DeWayne Shepard also had his best game of the year, scoring 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Not surprisingly, it was Fullerton's defense that made the difference, though. McQuarn moved senior Gary Davis over to defend Lee in the second half and the UCI guard scored just three more before fouling out with 2:18 left to play.
Tod Murphy, who was 8 of 15 from the floor with 8 rebounds, led the Anteaters with 21.
"We took care of the ball when we were playing the clock," McQuarn said, "and we played smart in the last three or four minutes . . . we don't always do that," he added with a grin.
Mr. Intense was smiling, but Mr. Easygoing wasn't.
"We'll be up for Thursday's game," Mulligan said, "but I don't know if we'll execute. They killed us on second shots. We're not gonna win a jumping contest with them, so I'll tell you this, we'll be blocking out a lot better."
So the Anteaters can plan on some rebounding drills in the next few days. And they better be paying attention because Mulligan's about ready to give up the nice-guy image and start throwing furniture.