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Titan Offense as Thin as the Air in Loss to Colorado

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Painted onto the court in front of the visitors’ bench at the Coors Events Center here are the words “5345 Feet Above Sea Level.”

But in keeping with an early pattern, what choked Cal State Fullerton in a 79-69 loss to Colorado on Tuesday was the Titans’ inexperience--not the thin air.

Offensive breakdowns resulted in poor shooting (34.8%) from the floor, defensive breakdowns led to early foul trouble and a lack of intensity in the second half finished off the Titans (1-4), who led, 31-30, at halftime and had visions of their first Division I victory of the season.

Different teams have different ways of dealing with the altitude. Former Fullerton Coach George McQuarn, as earnest as he could be, used to make a couple of points to his teams.

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He would tell them that elevation only affects you when you’re outside--and then remind them that they would play the game inside. He would also tell them that altitude is the opposite of smog, so breathing would be easier.

As near as anyone could tell, his players bought it all.

This year’s Titans dealt with the altitude in their own way. After taking a day to adjust--Winston Peterson and Fred Amos were noticeably sucking air at Monday night’s practice--they went out Tuesday night and ignored the altitude.

“I wasn’t feeling it too much,” Darren Little said. “I felt it in the first five minutes, but once you get used to it, it’s like you’re breathing normal California air.”

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So everything was OK for Little--until he went up for a shot. He made only two of 11 field goals and finished with six points.

He wasn’t alone. Although Peterson finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, he was only seven of 17 from the field. Greg Vernon (19 points) was six of 16. David Frigout and Josh King each were one of five.

“We just weren’t executing our offense, and that hurts,” Little said, and everyone agreed.

Why didn’t the Titan offense work?

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“I don’t have an answer for that,” Vernon said, shaking his head.

What made it sting even worse is that Colorado, picked to finish last in the Big Eight Conference, could have been beaten.

“That’s what makes this loss the most emotional loss for us,” Vernon said. “The other games could have gone either way. This loss, we knew we could beat this team. They knew we could beat them. But in the second half . . . “

Trailing by a point at halftime, Colorado went on a 14-3 run to open the second half, holding Fullerton to three points in the first 5:24.

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And now, as the early losses begin to pile up, Fullerton’s emotions teeter on a tightrope. With eight of nine players making their Titan debuts this season, at what point does the team’s mood turn from frustration to something worse?

“I’ve never experienced this before and neither have the guys on the team,” Titan Coach Brad Holland said. “All we can do is keep battling to come together and stay positive. This team is capable of being a good basketball team.”

Colorado nearly had the youth to match Fullerton. Coach Joe Harrington, who came to Colorado from Long Beach State, is in the fourth year of what seems like a terminal case of rebuilding: Seven of his 15 players this season are making their first appearance in a Buffalo uniform.

The locals aren’t exactly ecstatic with his product--Tuesday, a sparse crowd of 1,897 showed up, which is only about 500 under Colorado’s average. Other than All-Big Eight guard Donnie Boyce, who had 14 points, the Buffaloes have yet to distinguish themselves.

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Mark Dean, a 6-foot-8 senior from the Bahamas, had 20 points and 11 rebounds against Fullerton, but Colorado (4-2) shot only 41.4% and made just 58.3% of its free throws--36.4% in the first half.

“We’re not very good at the moment, but our program is getting better,” Harrington said. “I thought we struggled tonight. We played pretty good for eight or nine minutes at the beginning of the second half, and that was the difference.”

They can’t match Fullerton’s week, though. The Titans’ plane was 1 1/2 hours late Monday, and when the team arrived in Denver the vans they had reserved had disappeared. So after another 30-minute delay, the team finally rolled into Boulder at 9:30 p.m. and went directly to practice.

No matter that the players hadn’t eaten since noon.

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Yes, it is one hungry team that will arrive in Ft. Collins today for Thursday’s game at Colorado State.


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