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Holland None Too Happy Being Ringside for This One

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Brad Holland had just seen his best player cold-cocked to the ground and kicked in the head.

He had just seen basketball players in arms, and in bear hugs, and in head locks, cursing and writhing and swinging clenched fists.

He had just seen policemen sprint onto the arena floor to avert a full-scale riot and escort both teams, safely, to their respective locker rooms.

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Brad Holland had just seen his first Cal State Fullerton-UC Irvine basketball game.

Yes, the old neighborhood rivalry ain’t what it used to be.

Used to be, Fullerton and Irvine could play a basketball game without the winning coach contemplating filing assault and battery charges.

Used to be, Fullerton and Irvine could play a basketball game without the visiting coach clearing out his locker room before his players could shower and ordering them onto the bus for a quick getaway, less than 15 minutes after the final buzzer.

“Get out of here!” Holland yelled at his players moments after Saturday night’s 61-59 victory over Irvine at the Bren Center.

“Get the heck out of here!

“Get out alive.”

After waving the bus back to Fullerton, Holland stayed behind. He wanted to check the videotape, to see what had precipitated a postgame brawl that left Titan forward Bruce Bowen crumpled at midcourt and Holland screaming at police in a wide-eyed attempt to restore order.

An OCN cameraman lent Holland his equipment and told him to squint into the eyepiece. A button was pressed, and the first moments of the fight were played back to the Fullerton coach, in miniature.

After a minute or so, Holland put the machine down and straightened up, reassured that his eyes hadn’t initially deceived him.

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“Obiekea first hit him in the nose,” Holland reported. “That’s when Bruce went down. Then Obiekea kicked him in the head.

“Bruce held out out his hand in a gesture of good sportsmanship, and he winds up with, perhaps, a broken nose. Right now, he doesn’t look too good.”

Obiekea’s given name is Uzoma. He is a senior from Oguta, Nigeria, a reserve buried deep on the end of the UC Irvine bench, but he is known to be immensely active at the end of Fullerton-Irvine games.

Last season, after Fullerton had beaten Irvine on the same court, Obiekea and Bowen squared off but were separated before either player was hurt. The altercation then was sparked by--depending who’s doing the talking--Obiekea standing on Bowen’s feet during inbounds plays (Bowen’s version) or Bowen calling Obiekea “a bleeping African” (Obiekea’s version).

Regardless, the two players will never double-date. But they had scarcely made contact during Saturday’s game, Obiekea getting off the bench for just three minutes, scoring no points.

After the game was a different story. Fullerton had just taken the lead with 2.7 seconds left on a short follow by Don Leary, and when Irvine’s desperate length-of-the-court pass was intercepted by Sean Williams.

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Buzzer.

Titans win.

Off the bench comes Obiekea, in a flash. Down goes Bowen, just as quickly.

Afterward, Obiekea feigned ignorance, shrugging and saying, “I don’t know how the fight started” and “I didn’t see the fight,” and, alluding to Bowen, “I don’t know this guy.”

Videotape suggested otherwise, moving Irvine Coach Rod Baker and sports information director Bob Olson to separately seek Holland out, shake his hand and apologize.

“We’ll get it straightened out,” Olson promised.

“I hope so,” Holland sternly replied.

Holland was fuming as he paced the Bren Center floor, finally reaching out for his infant son, Kyle.

“Let me hold my son,” he said. “I need something to calm me down.”

Holland talked about pursuing legal action.

“I want to talk to Rod Baker about it,” he said, “and see what he’s going to do. I want to see what the NCAA is going to do. I would like them to see the film and take appropriate action.”

Someone mentioned to Holland that “you could put a guy in jail” for kicking an already injured player in the head.

“We’re going to look into that,” Holland said.

As bodies flew and fell around him, Holland could be seen screaming at policemen. Screaming, he claimed, to move them to action.

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“I saw these officers standing there, and they weren’t doing anything,” Holland said. “They were just telling me to get off the floor.

“ ‘Get off the floor? I’ve got a player down, people are getting hurt and you’re telling me to get off the floor? Why don’t you do something.’ ”

Holland was asked about his introduction to the Fullerton-Irvine rivalry.

On the court, between tipoff and buzzer, it seemed like just another conference game, he said.

“Was it a more physical game than usual? I don’t think so. It was a well-fought game,” Holland said, intending no pun.

The only rivalry he saw was the one between Obiekea and Bowen.

“Obviously,” Holland said, “they have a history. (But) I don’t know what possessed that young man to do what he did.”

In the other locker room, Baker called it “a shame. That was a pretty good basketball game. It’s a shame it had to end up that way.”

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No basketball game, pretty good or otherwise, ever should.

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