The incident occurred minutes before the opening tipoff and, as things developed, it eventually proved a non-incident. UC Irvine forward Mike Doktorczyk was cited with a technical foul for dunking the ball during pregame warmups, an infraction that gave San Jose State a one-point lead before a second had ticked off the clock Saturday night.
But it was only one point. And with Frank Woods and Wayne Engelstad scoring 19 points apiece, it was easily rendered meaningless in an 89-84 Irvine victory before 2,743 at the Bren Center.
So why was it such a hot topic with the coaches in the aftermath?
Has something to do with the cold war that has existed between Irvine's Bill Mulligan and San Jose's Bill Berry ever since the two became Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. rivals.
In Mulligan's view, the technical foul was a ticky-tack call and he fingered Berry for bringing Doktorczyk's dunk to referee Blaine Sylvester's attention.
"Why don't you talk to Coach Berry? He's a nice guy," were Mulligan's angry first words to reporters. "It was his call.
"I would never do what he did. One of our kids dunked the ball during warmups and he goes screaming to the refs. The ref says, 'Well, I gotta call it.' "
Mulligan said he didn't see Saturday's warmups, as is his custom.
"There's no reason to watch 'em," Mulligan said. "Usually, I go over and talk to the other coach . . . although I didn't do that tonight."
Mulligan, who prefers his basketball fast, and Berry, who prefers his team to milk the 45-second clock, apparently have differences that extend beyond the court.
Across the hall, Berry said the technical was Sylvester's call, first and last.
"The ref saw Mike Doktorczyk dunk the ball and he looked at me," Berry said. "All I could say was, 'It's a crazy rule.' It didn't look like a flagrant dunk--it was more dropping the ball in the basket. But I guess he had to call a T."
When Berry was informed of Mulligan's version, he shot back: "Oh, sure, Bill is gonna think that. Just like he thinks we don't play (i.e., run the transition game).
"Everybody likes to point fingers at other programs and I could point one at Irvine's. . . . I didn't make the call and if Bill thinks that, well, that's fine. He can ask the ref if he made the call."
And then, the game began.
The Anteaters (2-2 in the PCAA, 7-6 overall) won their second straight, and did it with what basically amounted to a cameo appearance by Scott Brooks. Brooks, the 5-10 guard who had 43 points in the Bren Center opener Thursday night, missed his first seven shots, went nearly 25 minutes before hitting a field goal and finished with a season-low 13 points.
But Irvine still found enough elsewhere to defeat San Jose (2-2, 6-7). Besides Woods and Engelstad, Joe Buchanan had 16 points and Mike Hess 12.
"That was what was so good to see--Buchanan and Hess picking up the slack," Mulligan said. "And Joe had to have that happen. He was really down on himself as a shooter."
Before Irvine's Bren Center debut, the Anteaters had lost three consecutive games. Buchanan had shot 26% in them (10 of 38). And in Irvine's first two PCAA defeats, Buchanan was 4 of 22 (18.2%).
But Saturday, he hit 6 of 9 attempts and 4 of his first 5 shots.
Buchanan credited it to a late-night tutoring session with Brooks.
"I shot around with Scott (Friday night) at Crawford Hall, from about 11:15 till a quarter to midnight," Buchanan said. "I wanted some of Scott to rub off on me."
But what about the effect it had on the teacher?
"He was due for an off night," Buchanan said with a grin. "What was that, his first one all year?"
For Woods, a junior transfer from Seward County Community College in Liberal, Kan., Saturday was his high-point game of the season. Since joining the starting lineup against Fresno State, he has scored 15, 17 and 19 points.
The switch from reserve to first-team has meant more to Woods than getting his name announced before each game.
"It shows Coach has confidence in me," Woods said. "He's starting me now and leaving me in late in the game. When I start, I get right into the flow of things right away."
Mulligan admitted he misused Woods during the nonconference games.
"I screwed him up the first couple of months," Mulligan said. "I misread him. I thought he didn't care, I thought he was this hot-shot JC kid.
"I tried to be a big tough guy with him. But Frank's the nicest kid in the world. The big tough guy was real smart, huh?"
Thus, a relationship has developed. Mulligan and Woods are now getting along famously.
As for Mulligan and Berry? Well, only the rivalry remains famous.