As U.S. International was well on its way to a 110-94 victory over visiting Sonoma State in one of those unattractive early-season games Monday, a lone voice carried from the crowd of 160 at Golden Hall.
"Why don't you leave your starters in there a little longer, coach?" the partisan Sonoma State fan yelled. "Why don't you score another 50 points?"
The fan's critique did not get USIU Coach Gary Zarecky in a pique. Instead, he was grateful. Zarecky has waited five years to hear that.
"When he said that, I remembered four years ago when I was driving to Golden Hall to play a Division II team and we were the underdog," Zarecky said. "What a change four years make. That means we're doing something right with the program. To me it was a compliment."
That was more than Zarecky had for his team's play against Sonoma State (2-1), which advanced to the NCAA Division II tournament last season.
"It was ugly," Zarecky said. "With a capital U."
Zarecky should not have expected anything more considering he cleared his bench with 2:53 remaining--in the first half.
Eleven of the Gulls' 13 players scored and USIU was never threatened after taking a 16-14 lead. USIU led by only 55-45 at the half, but ran that to 80-63 midway through the second half and 110-88 with two minutes left in the game.
Guards Kevin Bradshaw (28 points) and Steve Smith (20) led the Gulls. Forward Demetrius Laffitte added 19 points and 13 rebounds. Creedence Perkins led the Cossacks with 27 points.
And although USIU was always in control, it never really played under control.
"I tried different players with different combinations and that can get out of sync with the starters," Zarecky said. "It's a 'W' and for this program, a 'W' is an important thing."
But Zarecky couldn't be faulted for being concerned about his team's play. He knows the Gulls will have to play a polished game when they play at No. 16 Oklahoma in the Sooners' season opener Wednesday.
"They were out there for themselves, but at what point do you say as a coach, 'let them have fun,' " Zarecky said. "But it's not going to be fun Wednesday night."