UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : Game Against Titans Gets Blood Boiling
For those who thought the UC Irvine-Cal State Fullerton rivalry had reached an all-time low in 1993 when Anteater reserve Uzoma Obiekea broke free of teammates restraining him and kicked fallen Titan Bruce Bowen and a trainer who was kneeling to administer aid, consider this:
Ten years earlier, Fullerton’s Ricky Mixon was kicked during a brawl with Irvine and lost a testicle.
This is a rivalry with a storied and soiled past. It has featured some pretty good and really bad teams, some exquisitely talented and just-plain sorry athletes. But at least it manages to suck a breath of emotion out of two generally apathetic student bodies.
At 7:30 tonight in the Bren Center, the 57th meeting of the teams will begin, so let’s get a little historical perspective, looking at the last 15 years of fun that began when a Saddleback College coach named Bill Mulligan said he was going to take the Fullerton job, then changed his mind and went to Irvine.
Nobody cared all that much about Mulligan, really. The snouts of Anteaters and elephants were twitching over the prospect of having a 6-foot-8 forward named Kevin Magee, who would follow Mulligan anywhere.
* On Jan. 15, 1981, Titan fans had their worst nightmares realized. Magee, it seemed, was even better than billed. In his debut against Fullerton, he made 13 of 14 field-goal attempts, scored 39 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and the Anteaters ran up a 99-85 romp.
* The Fullerton faithful were able to thumb their noses in a goodby salute to Magee, however. The Anteaters went 23-7 and won a postseason game in the NIT during Magee’s senior season, 1981-82, but he managed only 13 points in a triple-overtime loss at Titan Gym. And 10 days later, Gary Davis’ perimeter jumper at the buzzer propelled the Titans to a 62-61 victory in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
* In 1983, Mulligan decided to move a game from Irvine’s 1,500-seat campus gym to the Anaheim Convention Center to accommodate the crowd. The 3,967 on hand saw Mixon, who had been injured five weeks earlier, score 29 and Fullerton’s Leon Wood hand out 18 assists during a 98-74 Titan version of showtime.
* The mid- through late-'80s were mostly dog days for Irvine fans as the Titans dominated the regular season and knocked Irvine out of the conference tournament in ’85, ’86, ’87, and ’89. But the Anteaters had a highlight night on Jan. 26, 1984. They stopped Fullerton’s 26-game winning streak in Titan Gym, scoring seven points in the final 62 seconds. Derrick Johnson made a steal, was fouled and lifted Irvine to an 81-80 victory by making one of two free throws with two seconds left.
* Titan star Cedric Ceballos was dropped from the starting lineup of the first-round game in the 1990 Big West tournament. Coach John Sneed said it was because of unexcused tardies. Ceballos said he had skipped a practice to go to Hank Gathers’ funeral. Or was it his arrest on a domestic violence charge? Didn’t matter to Anteater fans. Ceballos eventually emerged from the bench to score 19 points with 12 rebounds and Fullerton rolled, 82-63.
* Irvine Coach Rod Baker experienced losses in his first three encounters with Fullerton, including a 61-59 heartbreaker when Don Leary threw in a desperation shot at the buzzer while falling flat on his back. The Titans’ only other lead in the game was 2-0. While the teams were shaking hands in front of the Irvine bench, the fight broke out with Obiekea first punching and then kicking Bowen.
* A month later, Irvine missed only nine first-half shots and led by 10 at Titan Gym. The Titans tied the score in regulation, but the Anteaters won, 88-86, when Shaun Battle slammed home a dunk with three seconds remaining in overtime.
* Last year, Irvine appeared to be headed toward a series sweep. The Anteaters had pulled off a 77-71 victory at Fullerton and opened up a 27-7 advantage in the early going in the Bren. But the Titans scored 62 second-half points and won, 101-95.
Hyped up: In the past, Baker downplayed the rivalry, probably because of his less-than-good-buddy relationship with Fullerton Coach Brad Holland. But Holland is gone, Baker likes new Titan Coach Bob Hawking and is taking a new tack.
“I’d like it to mean more,” he said. “I come from an area where these kinds of games mean something more. We’re in the same conference. We’re close in proximity. It should be a game where these guys really go at it, even if it’s just for bragging rights of the county.
“And I think I’ve been here long enough where it should have built into something.”
Desk-top ribbing: The publishers of Titan TipOff, a newsletter billing itself as the “definitive authority on Cal State Fullerton basketball,” are doing their best to keep the rivalry alive.
They wonder if Irvine will hang a banner in the Bren that reads: “1994 Big West Conference Tournament Finalist Even Though We Finished Last.”
And they say they nixed a coach’s corner-type column by Hawking because Baker would steal his secrets. A proposed installment was to be titled, “Hanging Onto a Two-Point Lead With Six Seconds Left Against the 14th-Ranked Team in the Nation.”
Irvine lost to then-No. 14 Ohio University in overtime Dec. 2.
Are we having fun? Chris Brown has had his troubles, but Baker is sure the senior guard can regain the form that made him the top three-point shooter in the land last season. Opponents continue to hound Brown relentlessly, even though he has made only 22 of 70 three-pointers.
“People still have tapes of (last year’s Big West) tournament and they’re still scouting us somewhat by what happened there,” Baker said. “If I was looking at those tapes, I’d climb his (butt) too.”
Brown made 11 three-pointers in the championship game, a 70-64 loss to New Mexico State. The momentum didn’t carry over to the start of this season, however.
“Chris and I had a nice little chat,” Baker said. “He’s all set. He just has to start having a little more fun. The guy made (252) threes over the past two seasons. It’s not like he can’t make them. Just throw the thing up there and see what happens.”
The men’s and women’s swim teams are playing host to the annual UCI Invitational Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Heritage Park in Irvine. Nine collegiate men’s teams and 12 women’s teams will participate. The invitational will be divided into three events this year: a distance meet Friday, an individual meet Saturday and a relay meet Sunday.