For Cal State Fullerton, the season is fast becoming a variation on the old the-question-keeps-changing routine.
Fix one problem, find another.
The Titans (4-11 overall, 0-6 in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.) have lost six straight and have yet to win on the road in eight tries.
And hardly anyone--from Coach George McQuarn to the players--seems to have a lead on a practical solution.
"It's very, very difficult when you're that close and there's something missing," McQuarn said after the Titans' latest defeat, a 75-72 loss to Utah State in front of 6,278 in the Spectrum.
"We simply can't get over the hump it takes to win, and the hump changes every game," McQuarn said.
This time, Fullerton's chances--at least in part--slipped away when the Titans, trailing, 72-70, with 25 seconds remaining, called a timeout they didn't have, resulting in a technical.
Utah State's Jon Judkins made one of two technical free throws and the Aggies (11-6, 6-2) got the ball at halfcourt.
Had the timeout--signaled by Richard Morton on the court--not been called, Fullerton would have been a point closer and been in position to run its fullcourt defensive trap.
As it was, Fullerton was forced to twice foul Utah State's Jeff Anderson, who made two of three free throws, giving the Aggies a five-point lead with 10 seconds remaining.
Anderson led the Aggies with 19 points. Dan Conway added seven and Greg Housekeeper and Kevin Nixon each had 12.
But even without the technical, Fullerton had no guarantees. The Titans had trailed by as many as 11 and shot only 35% in the game. One bright spot for Fullerton in the box score: the Titans outrebounded the Aggies, 56-36.
The Titans made it close again with an 11-4 run late in the second half. Morton, who has struggled lately, made a three-pointer and another jump shot that cut it to 72-70 with 25 seconds remaining.
Part of Fullerton's continuing trouble stems from a strange situation with the scoring of Morton and Henry Turner, Fullerton's two key offensive threats. It seems if one is on, the other is not.
Turner led Fullerton with 22 points and 17 rebounds Thursday, and had had 15 and 24 in the Titans' previous two games.
Morton, who has been the Titans' leading scorer all season, is in the midst of a dismal slump. Although he scored 15 points Thursday, he did it on 5-of-25 shooting. Two weeks ago, he scored a career-high 38 points in a loss to UC Irvine. In the three games since, he has made only 15 of 62 shots.
Vincent Blow had 11 points and 13 rebounds for Fullerton Thursday, and Eugene Jackson added nine points.
Once again, however, Fullerton did no better than get close.
In six PCAA loses, Fullerton has been beaten by more than eight points only once, in a loss to UC Santa Barbara. In the rest--a seven-point loss to Long Beach, a four-point loss to New Mexico State, an eight-point loss to UC Irvine, a six-point loss to Nevada Las Vegas, and Thursday's three-point loss--they had a chance every time.
This hasn't been of great comfort to McQuarn, whose Fullerton team is off to its worst start since starting 2-13 in 1980-81, his first year at the school.
"You may see a smile outside," McQuarn said. "Inside, it's quite different."
The Fullerton players, like their coach, don't seem to know how to change their plight.
"We take it game by game," Turner said. "Every time I play, I go in just to try to win another."
Blow, who has had career-high rebounding nights in his past two games, said something similar.
"I just go in like it's 0-0," Blow said.
Unfortunately for the Titans, the score always begins that way, but the record is long past it.
Bobby Adair, once a starting forward for the Titans, scored two points and fouled out in nine minutes. Adair has been a reserve the past two games, since returning from a two-game disciplinary suspension.