Three Cal State Fullerton players missed last Saturday's game against UC Santa Barbara, and their availability for tonight's game against UC Irvine is still in question. Coach George McQuarn, who hardly had the strength to get out of his seat in the loss to Santa Barbara, has been bedridden most of the week.
Titan assistant coach John Sneed said Wednesday morning that McQuarn had bronchial pneumonia, and didn't know whether he would be well enough to make the game tonight. McQuarn missed the Titans' practices Tuesday and Wednesday.
When George McQuarn misses basketball practice, you know he's sick. Particularly when his team is in need of inspiration as the Titans--losers of three of their last four games--certainly are.
But help may be on the way for McQuarn and his players. Fullerton plays Irvine tonight in Titan Gym. For the Titans, this is a better remedy than chicken noodle soup. What better team for the Titans to try to get well against than one they have beaten six straight times?
It was one season ago, almost to the day, that Fullerton limped into Titan Gym with its two best offensive players on crutches. Sophomore guard Richard Morton suffered knee and ankle injuries five days earlier when he collided with the basket support in San Jose. Senior guard Kevin Henderson was still recovering from a broken foot suffered in December.
Irvine had a team Coach Bill Mulligan was saying might have been his best ever at UCI, and it was healthy. This was the game in which the Anteaters figured to get a measure of respect.
So what happens? Vincent Blow, a reserve forward for Fullerton, has a season-high 10 points and grabs 6 rebounds, Alexander Hamilton fills in at a starting guard spot and scores a season-high 13 points, the Titans shoot a season-high 65% from the field and win, 66-54.
Fullerton beat Irvine in Crawford Hall, 78-68, on March 1, then eliminated the Anteaters from the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. Tournament five days later with a 66-58 victory in the Forum. The latter loss extended Fullerton's winning streak over UCI to six games, and prompted Mulligan to mutter, "I'm tired of making excuses. We didn't play well, I didn't coach well, and I feel awful."
How is it that Mulligan's Irvine teams have lost 8 of their last 10 meetings with Fullerton? They've beaten the University of the Pacific 14 straight times. Fullerton has lost its last three games against Pacific. What is this strange hold the Titans have over the Anteaters?
Mulligan doesn't know, and he's getting a little tired of being asked. "It's true," he said with more than a trace of frustration. "We have an awful time with them."
But there must be some explanation. Or at least a few theories.
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS THEORY
Mulligan is fond of reminding people of Irvine's proximity to the beach. Fullerton has a nifty view of the 57 freeway, and that seems to suit McQuarn just fine. McQuarn's theme is "We Play Hard." It is printed on the Titans' practice jerseys and displayed on the cover of Fullerton's media guide. This season's Irvine media guide cover features a picture of Anteater players in a pick-up game at Laguna Beach, with the ocean in the background and Mulligan in the foreground, wearing shades and sitting in a beach chair.
McQuarn characterizes the atmosphere of his program as distinctly blue collar, and leaves little question as to who's the boss. As Fullerton forward Henry Turner said earlier this season: "Our whole team's attitude is Coach is the leader. He's the chief and we're the braves. If we do what he says, we're going to win."
Mulligan's been known to angrily chastise players on his bench but, in general, his approach is a bit more laid back.
"George has more of a dictatorship," Mulligan said. "Our players don't run our program, but it's not a dictatorial program, either. There are different ways to win. Our record's better over here than his is there in seven years, but I think he does a real good job."
Mulligan entered this season with a 105-69 record at Irvine. McQuarn, who started at Fullerton the same year Mulligan took the job at Irvine, entered this season at 93-87. But he's 10-5 against Mulligan.
Score one for the working stiffs.
Irvine guard Mike Hess said it after the Anteaters were beaten last season in Crawford Hall, and had seven shots blocked in the process: "They don't just block shots, they block 'em. You have to inbound the ball after they block shots . . . but first you have to go up to the stands and say, 'Could you please throw that back down here.' "
Said Mulligan: "I'm 4-6 against (UNLV's Jerry) Tarkanian. For some reason, we go in there and we're not intimidated. Yet against Fullerton . . . they seem to intimidate us."