The dynasty wasn't broken, but it was certifiably cracked. Vandalized. Scandalized. And the dynasty was beginning to get fed up.
No regular-season conference championship in 1990, a seven-year first.
No postseason conference tournament championship in 1990, a 12-year first.
Seven losses in 1990-91, including one to Cal State Fullerton, ending a 26-0 reign over the Titans since 1978.
How much damage can a dynasty withstand until it can be considered a dynasty no longer?
For the members of the Cal State Long Beach women's basketball team, ignorance persists as bliss.
Matched again against the impudent blue-and-orange from Fullerton in the final of the Big West Conference tournament Saturday, Long Beach hammered home old lessons in history, basketball and mathematics, and tradition and suffocating full-court pressure defense added up to a 71-60 victory at the Long Beach Arena.
It would be less than accurate to state that the Titans never knew what hit them. Fullerton has been playing Long Beach in women's basketball for 25 years. The Titans know already.
It still didn't help them.
The 49ers pressed Fullerton's tiny guards from the first click of the clock till the last, from the first inch of hardwood to the baseline at the other end. They pressed the Titans into 23 turnovers. They pressed the Titans so long and so hard, Fullerton's 5-foot-2 point guard, Michelle Hennessey, was down to 5-1 by afternoon's end.
"That's the biggest pressure defense I've ever had to go against," Hennessey said once she succeeded in catching her breath. "It's a 110% press. They don't let up. . . .
"People call me a gnat, but they are worse than me."
It was an intriguing sight, watching Hennessey trying to dribble a basketball while the 49ers dribbled her. In her 39 minutes of court time, Hennessey was tripped, harassed, pushed and poked in the eye. She would have played 40 minutes if Long Beach guard Serina Strange hadn't decided to add a poke in the back of Hennessey's head to the list.
After a referee's whistle interrupted the fury with 9:57 left in the first half, Hennessey was beginning to walk away for a respite when Strange snuck up behind her, reached down and smacked Hennessey just below the pony tail.
Startled, Hennessey whirled and hit back--running up to Strange and shoving her in the back.
The players were separated before the fight could escalate, and Fullerton Coach Maryalyce Jeremiah grabbed Hennessey by the arm and sat her down beside her. A one-minute suspension.
"I've never done anything like that in my life," Hennessey said. "Then again, I've never been hit in the head before. That was just a natural response--to push back . . . Tempers flared, it was a pressure game. But when coach took me out, she told me, 'That wasn't very classy.' I agreed."
Said Jeremiah: "I knew it was coming. (Long Beach) had been taunting us, doing a lot of talking. But I wanted Michelle is understand what she did. I wanted her to understand the scoreboard and how extremely important it was for her not to get thrown out of this game.
"But I also wanted her to look at the big picture. No game is more important than what you are and who you are. When you walk out of the gym, you are the person you have to live with. . . . We all are representing our school, our team and Fullerton."
There's one paragraph that ought to be enlarged, reproduced and posted all over the athletic department before Fullerton gets officially retitled Trouble Tech.
Hennessey returned to brave some more, but staying in the game, bringing the ball into the front court and remaining in one piece was only half the mission.
There was the still the task of getting the ball to a shooter, preferably center Genia Miller, the MVP of the tournament. And then Miller had to take the ball and place it in the basket, an unexpectedly iffy proposition Saturday.
Miller missed four of her first five shots, all from 10 feet and in, and 12 of 20 overall. She finished with 21 points--decent but disappointing in light of the 39 and 40 points she scored during Fullerton's first two games against Long Beach.
"I think Miller is the best player in the country," Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini said. "Not just the conference, but the whole country . . . (But) I felt we could do a better job on Genia."
Bonvicini accomplished this by double-teaming Miller, front and back, with her two most physical players, 6-2 center Kari Parriott and 6-3 forward Danielle Scott. Immediately, this did two things--it stopped the lob passes from raining freely into Miller's outstretched palms, and it forced Miller away from the glass that has become her bank shot's best friend.
"They forced her to shoot from an angle she's not accustomed to," Jeremiah said. "Genia wasn't using the glass. That made a difference."
And when Miller began missing, Titan confidence sank like a stone.
"We depend so much on Genia, especially (on shots) that close," Hennessey said. "She starts missing those, and it makes it a little tougher for the rest of us. That means we have to score from the outside."
Saturday, that meant the Titans were in trouble. Hennessey shoots only layups, forwards Claudette Jackson and Cheryl Hightower were a combined seven for 18 and Joey Ray, the Fullerton long-distance specialist, was a meager three for nine.
"It's always tougher to shoot with a hand in your face," Jeremiah reasoned. "And Long Beach always had a hand in our face."
Bonvicini knew the best way to quick-fix the dynasty was with quick feet and hands. "I think what won the game was defense," she said. "I talked about it in practice. We wanted their guards to have nightmares about us tonight."
Saturday the nightmares came, but early. Sightings were reported, predominantly between opening tipoff and final buzzer.