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What's next is on minds at Caltech

With its 207-game NCAA losing streak over, the team takes aim at another skid.

January 08, 2007|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Caltech's basketball players understand quantum mechanics and differential equations, but forgive them if they had difficulty fathoming some of the numbers their team lived with until Saturday.

Caltech had lost 59 games in a row, and a mind-boggling 207 in a row against NCAA teams.

Then came their game against visiting Bard College, a NCAA Division III school from New York's Hudson Valley that is better known for a performing arts center designed by Frank Gehry than for basketball.

The final score: Caltech 81, Bard 52.

It was the first victory for the brainy Beavers, who often study until 4 a.m., since Nov. 22, 2004, against Life Pacific, a Bible college in San Dimas.

And it was the first victory over an NCAA team since 1996.

"To blow out a team, basically, was kind of amazing," said Bryan Hires, a junior forward whose only victory at Caltech until Saturday came in his first game as a freshman.

That's one more than sophomore forward Travis Haussler had won. Haussler's Santa Cruz High team lost only one game his senior year -- in double overtime -- and went on to win the state Division III championship.

He hadn't won a game until Saturday against Bard.

"Their tallest player was 6-4. Bryan's 6-6 and I'm 6-7 -- depending on what shoes we're wearing," said Haussler, who finished with 27 points.

"We found ourselves up seven at halftime, and the locker room was electric. With about five minutes to go, I think we were up 20-something points. I got a big chill standing on the court, realizing we were pretty much going to win. Then I thought, 'We've got to buckle down and make sure we do win.' "

They did, but there's another streak to deal with: Caltech, which plays at the Division III level, hasn't won a game in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for almost 22 years, a streak of 245 conference games.

Such is life for Caltech's academically gifted athletes, some of whom didn't even play for their varsity team in high school. Yet they choose to play despite the losing and the demanding academic requirements.

Paxon Frady, a junior guard, is studying computation and neural systems, and would like to earn a business degree as well.

"Hopefully, I'll invent some computer hookup to the brain. That would be cool," said Frady, who tore a knee ligament last season but returned this season and has played despite hyperextending his knee and suffering an abdominal injury.

"I don't know why I do it. I just love playing basketball, I guess," he said.

Haussler is majoring in applied math and business, and comes from a long line of scholars. His grandfather attended Caltech, and his father, David Haussler, is a UC Santa Cruz professor who collaborated on the Human Genome Project.

Hires is studying engineering and applied science with a concentration in aeronautics, and hopes he might spend the summer working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory instead of on his post moves.

And Matthew Dellatorre, a sophomore guard who contributed 24 points in the victory over Bard, is studying applied and computation math and picking up premed requirements.

"Too many times, I'm up studying until practice starts," Dellatorre said.

By the way, Caltech practices in the afternoon.

Roy Dow, the coach who has shown energy and initiative and has three victories in five seasons to show for it, said breaking that streak won't be easy. But he believes Caltech should be able to win six, 12, 15 games a season.

"I think I had a very, very sound understanding of what Caltech is and how it's unique," Dow said. "At the same time, I won't let Caltech be an excuse for having an abysmal basketball program."

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