Last season, Cal State Fullerton upset Fresno State in the semifinals of the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament, then rolled over and played dead the next day as Nevada Las Vegas ran away with the championship game.
This season, the Titans beat second-seeded UC Irvine Thursday in the first round--and Friday night, they went comatose again as the 13th-ranked Rebels scored an eased-up 75-65 semifinal victory before a Forum crowd of 9,594.
Las Vegas (30-4) will play New Mexico State, a 75-61 winner over Pacific, in the championship game today at 2 p.m.
"In the middle of the season," Rebel Coach Jerry Tarkanian said, "I said that Fullerton, when they got everyone healthy, would be the surprise team of the tournament. I'm just glad they didn't surprise us tonight."
Unfortunately for Fullerton, though, this one was as predictable as the Titans' first two losses to Las Vegas this season.
When Fullerton (17-15) beat Irvine for the third time this season in the opening round, Titan Coach George McQuarn was in deja vu heaven. Friday night, however, he was feeling considerably lower.
"We didn't play with the kind of emotion you need to have a chance against Las Vegas," McQuarn said. "You have to find an edge to compensate for their personnel."
Consider the Titans' Kevin Henderson, for instance. The 6-4 guard must be hoping the pro scouts were paying more attention to the Irvine game than to his final collegiate outing.
Henderson hit 9 of 11 shots and scored 24 points against Irvine. Friday night, he was 5 for 11 and finished with 11 points. Henderson scored 14 or more in every game before breaking his foot Dec. 22 and missing seven weeks. And in his last four games, he was averaging 21.
McQuarn said: "Kevin didn't have it here (pointing to his head) or there (putting his hand over his heart). We just weren't mentally or emotionally ready."
Henderson said the Titans thought they were prepared.
"We felt we had as good a chance of beating Vegas tonight as we possibly could," Henderson said in barely audible tones. "But they took us out of our offense, and we just didn't get it done."
The Rebels, who set a school record with win No. 30, were getting it done all over the court, however.
UNLV forward Anthony Jones, NBA-bound himself, hit 11 of his 16 shots and scored a game-high 25 points.
"We tried to keep the ball away from him," McQuarn said, "because once he gets his hands on the ball, he scores."
Rebel guard Freddie Banks scored 20 points, including a pair of acrobatic, double-pump alley-oop shots. And forward Armon Gilliam made 5 of 7 shots, finishing with 14 points.