Cal State Fullerton Again Beats Irvine, 84-74

Times Staff Writer

Not surprisingly, the UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton basketball teams each reflect their coach's personality.

The Anteaters are loose, self-confident and poised, but not particularly aggressive. Just like Coach Bill Mulligan.

The Titans are intense. Very intense. Just like Coach George McQuarn.

Saturday night at Titan Gym, the teams met for the 11th time in the five years since Mulligan and McQuarn began facing each other.

Intense won.

McQuarn's Titans beat Mulligan's Anteaters, 84-74, in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. season finale before 3,145 in a preview of Thursday's first-round PCAA tournament matchup. Third-seeded Fullerton meets No. 6 seed UCI at 4 p.m. at the Forum.

The victory gives the Titans a 2-0 season series sweep and McQuarn a 6-5 lifetime edge over Mulligan, but the psychological advantage goes to, well, it depends on who you're talking to.

Fullerton guard Kevin Henderson, who scored 31 points (27 in the second half) Saturday night said: "We should have the advantage. We beat them twice and we both know that."

Titan forward Tony Neal: "It's really hard to beat a team three times in one year. I still remember two years ago when we beat (Cal State) Long Beach by 30 points and 20 (actually 14) points, and then they beat us in the opening round of the tourney."

Mulligan: "One of two things will happen. Our guys will say, 'We can't beat them, it's impossible to beat Fullerton. Or it'll work the other way. Who knows?"

McQuarn: "I don't think playing them a third time is much of a factor. Considering the rivalry and the game, I don't think there will be an emotional letdown."

There were no letdowns Saturday in a fast-paced, entertaining game that was much closer than the final score indicated.

Like a lot of close college games, it came down to a free-throw shooting contest in the final minutes after a 35-minute see-saw battle.

Irvine, which made 30 of 31 free throws in a two-point loss at Las Vegas Wednesday, managed to make just 2 of 8 in the last 4:41 Saturday. In the same period, Fullerton made 13 of 17 to ensure the victory.

UCI's Jerome Lee, who has become a master of the three-point range of late, made three in a row in the first half and had 12 first-half points as the Anteaters moved out to a 36-33 halftime advantage.

But Neal, who had held high-scoring Johnny Rogers to two points in the first half in the first meeting, was frustrating the 6-10 center again. Rogers, averaging 21.7 points, had four at the half and finished with 14.

"Neal did an outstanding job on Rogers," McQuarn said. "We had two objectives, to take away their transition game and to defend their interior game. In the second half, we did both of those very well."

Neal, whose 15 rebounds gave him the Fullerton single-season record (299), surpassing Edgar Clark's 294 in 1961-62, had one of the best games of his career. He finished with 15 points, 6 steals and 4 blocked shots.

Fullerton did it with defense mainly, though. Senior Gary Davis took over the defense of Lee in the second half, and the UCI guard finished with 15 points. Tod Murphy led the Anteaters with 21.

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