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Santa Barbara's Pimm Is Pipping Hot Over Fresh Tortilla Controversy

BIG WEST CONFERENCE NOTEBOOK / JASON REID

February 15, 1997|JASON REID

Late-night college hoops, raucous Big West Conference fans, ESPN and . . . tortillas?

Something doesn't fit. Hint: That ESPN televised a Big West game is not the answer, although that's a darn good guess.

The tortilla-tossing fiasco that thrice delayed the Pacific-UC Santa Barbara game Thursday night might be considered good, clean fun to some. That whole kids-will-be-kids deal.

Santa Barbara was assessed three technical fouls but still defeated Pacific, 75-69, in front of 5,313 at the Thunderdome. No one was injured, the home team won and some of the school's best and brightest went home happy, if possibly a little sore-armed.

No harm done? Not so fast.

The day after, Gaucho Coach Jerry Pimm was still hot.

"Some of our students need to be better educated," Pimm said. "That was the wrong place and the wrong time to do that."

The Santa Barbara crowd was assessed two technical fouls before the game started. The first came about 20 minutes before tipoff.

As Pacific ran onto the court to warm-up, tortillas cascaded from the stands. Pacific guard Mark Boelter stepped to the line to shoot the technical shots, missed the first one and then out came more tortillas.

Pacific is the conference's top team and ESPN was in the house, so the excitement was understandable. To a point. Pimm was so embarrassed that he grabbed the public-address microphone and admonished the students.

He also pleaded with them to behave like adults or at least act the part until the game was over. It didn't work.

With Santa Barbara leading, 73-69, late in the game, more tortillas hit the court. Had one hit Pimm in the face, it might have caught fire.

"That really, really . . . let's just say it upset me," Pimm said, the anger still evident in his voice. "Our kids played so hard, with such great emotion, and that could have wound up costing us the game."

Even though Pimm was trying to stop the students, he could have been tossed after the crowd picked up the second technical. However, Pacific Coach Bob Thomason didn't think that would be fair, and neither did the officiating crew working the game.

"I really have to commend Bob for that," Pimm said. "He was in a very tough position."

Pimm isn't sure what can be done to stop this. He said security searched people entering the Thunderdome for tortillas Thursday night, causing delays in entry that upset many.

"I just don't know what we can do anymore," Pimm said. "We threw some people out, but that still didn't stop it. I just don't know what we can do."

Tortilla tossing is nothing new at the Thunderdome. Santa Barbara fans, historically among the Big West's most passionate, previously threw toilet paper after the team scored its first points of the game.

Campus security cracked down in 1990, searching everyone who attended games and confiscating toilet paper. That's when tortillas became the preference.

"The problem now is the flatness of the tortillas," Pimm said. "Obviously, people still sneak them in."

Pimm said he has never seen as many large-scale repeated tosses as he did Thursday night. A tortilla strip search isn't in the works.

"We don't want them to do it, but it has become sort of a tradition around here," Pimm said. "If you're going to do it, though, do it the right way. And for heaven's sake--don't throw them three times."

*

Reno or bust: The loss to Santa Barbara probably ends any hope Pacific had of earning an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.

The Western Division-leading Tigers dropped to 18-3, 9-2 in conference. Knock the overall record down to 14-3 because four victories came against non-Division I opponents, which the selection committee doesn't count toward teams' totals.

But Pacific does have an impressive nonconference victory over Georgetown. Pacific might--we repeat, might--have sneaked into the tournament if it had run the table during the regular season and won a couple of Big West tournament games in Reno.

The Big West is perceived to be so weak that even two losses means the Tigers better win the tournament, which would give them the conference's automatic berth. Otherwise, hello NIT. Or maybe even lights out.

*

Eastern powers: Break up the east!

Beginning the week, the Eastern Division was home to four of the conference's top teams. Boise State, Nevada, New Mexico State and Utah State had winning overall and conference records.

In the Western Division, only Pacific had a winning record. In either category. At 1-18 and 1-9, UC Irvine trailed Cal State Fullerton by only two games in the race for the division's fourth and final Big West tournament slot.

"All of a sudden it looks like the East vs. West because that's the way we've provided it," Irvine Coach Rod Baker said. "But the truth is that Nevada, Utah State and New Mexico State have been strong teams not only this year but year in and year out."

*

That's one vote: Although exhausted, James Cotton didn't forget.

Cotton had just scored 26 points in an emotional 68-67 Long Beach State victory over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Thursday night and needed some serious sleep. However, before leaving a meeting with reporters Cotton remembered to say something he felt was important: In his opinion, Mike Wozniak is the Big West's top freshman.

"He's the best freshman I've seen this year," said Cotton, the Big West's leading scorer. "I told him after the game he did a great job. Hands down, he should get [the freshman-of-the-year award]."

Wozniak scored 24 points against Long Beach with Cotton chasing him for most of the game. Wozniak is averaging 15 points for the Mustangs.

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