LAS VEGAS — They wouldn't seem like the Cal State Fullerton Titans if they weren't close for a while.
But neither would they seem themselves if they won a game on the road--particularly at Nevada Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center, where the Titans--and a lot of other teams--have never won.
After a 77-61 loss Thursday night, the Titans are 0-5 here. The Rebels are 86-3 in the arena in five-plus seasons.
Fullerton, which is in next-to-last place in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn., made enough of a run to give the seventh-ranked Rebels a bit of a scare when it cut UNLV's lead to seven points on a three-pointer by Richard Morton with about seven minutes to play. But the Titans couldn't get any closer.
UNLV uncorked its running game and used a 13-0 run to take a 20-point lead with 1:52 remaining.
"Vegas played well in spurts," said George McQuarn, Cal State Fullerton coach. "We struggled to score again. They're just a much better basketball team than we are."
The Titans (6-15 overall, 2-10 in the PCAA) had the apparent misfortune of being the first team to play UNLV since the Rebels lost to UC Santa Barbara Saturday. It was only UNLV's second loss of the season, but both have come at the hands of the Gauchos.
UC Irvine was the team that faced the wrath of the Rebels after their loss to Santa Barbara in January. UNLV came back from that 62-60 upset, only its third loss ever in the Thomas & Mack Center, to blow out Irvine, 103-68.
But for much of Thursday's game, UNLV's play looked more like lethargy than fury.
"We didn't play offensively as well as we can at times," said Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV coach. "We didn't execute the fast break that well either, but you can't do everything."
Fullerton trailed by 10 at halftime--a small margin, considering that the Rebels outrebounded the Titans, 22-14, and that Richard Morton and Henry Turner made but 3 of 17 shots between them.
UNLV stretched that lead to 19 points early in the second half, but later allowed Fullerton to get back in it.
Fullerton had taken a 5-0 lead at the start of the game as UNLV missed its first three shots--all three-point attempts. But the Rebels outscored the Titans, 23-7, over the next seven minutes, taking a 23-12 lead.
UNLV stretched that lead to as many as 17 points in the first half, thanks in part to a three-pointer by Gerald Paddio and a three-point play by Jarvis Basnight on an offensive rebound.
The Titans staged a rally around a most unlikely player--John Sykes, the backup center who has played sparingly since starting two games early in the season. Sykes found himself open underneath for two baskets, and added two free throws, starting Fullerton's run.
Late in the game, Fullerton got a boost from its most seldom-used player, Benson Williams, who played two minutes against Irvine Saturday in his first appearance of the season. But against UNLV, Williams made two straight jumpers to help cut into UNLV's lead in the final 10 minutes. His touch faded later, though, as he missed several shots as the Titans attempted to close the lead.
Turner, who has been the Titans' second-leading scorer all season, had easily his worst shooting night of the year. He finished with 17 points, but that was bolstered by 10 of 14 free throws. He made only 3 of 16 shots from the field, including one three-pointer.
Morton led Fullerton with 20 points. Paddio led UNLV with 19.
Just how unconcerned with--or unaware of--the PCAA standings Rebel fans are seemed apparent when Utah State's 82-65 victory over Santa Barbara was announced during the game.
Utah State, not Santa Barbara, is tied with UNLV for the PCAA lead with a 10-2 record, but the fans cheered Santa Barbara's loss. Forgive them if they cheered for the wrong result--they aren't used to scouring standings.
To their credit, they may realize that UNLV still has a game remaining against Utah State--this one in Thomas & Mack.
Fullerton has yet to win a road game in 12 attempts, and has only two road games remaining.
Fortunately for the Titans, those two games are against the only PCAA teams they have beaten--Fresno State and Pacific.