The Titans will conclude a four-game road trip when they visit Cal Poly on Jan. 13 and Cal State Northridge on Jan. 15. Since Big West Conference play began Dec. 28, the Titans have beaten Pacific, a perennial conference power, and lost to last-place UC Davis.
Where they go from here remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: The Titans are better with Andre Hardy on the floor.
The junior forward missed the first 11 games after undergoing ankle surgery and was suspended when the Titans visited UC Irvine on Jan. 5. In the four games in which he has appeared, Hardy averaged 15.3 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Hardy served an automatic one-game suspension after being ejected from a Dec. 30 game against Pacific. The Titans missed his presence in an 85-78 loss to UC Irvine. Senior guard Devon Peltier posted 23 points after being held to single digits in four of the previous five games and the Titans held UC Irvine's Darren Moore and Eric Wise to a total of 16 points, but they couldn't overcome 24 turnovers.
"If you hold Wise to six points and Moore to 10, you would think you have a pretty good chance to win," Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton said. "But we've had that problem all year -- stopping the top guys but letting other people beat us. ... Not having Andre Hardy also had an effect. We were just getting used to playing with him."
Hardy returned against UC Riverside on Jan. 8, and the Titans escaped with an 83-77 overtime victory after blowing a five-point lead in the final seconds of regulation. Highlanders guard Javon Borum made a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining and sent the game to overtime with two free throws after officials hit the Titans with a technical foul for calling a timeout they didn't have.
"An incredible game, an incredible win," Bob Burton said. "I'm so proud of our guys for the way they competed in overtime after we screwed it up at the end of regulation."
-- The Big West Conference has produced some wild races in recent years with big shots, bizarre finishes and perhaps more parity than ever before. Already this season there are signs that the conference race could be another topsy-turvy affair. For instance, road teams went 4-0 in Big West openers and posted an impressive 5-2 record during the first week of conference play. That would have been a 6-1 mark, but Cal State Fullerton G Devon Peltier beat Pacific at the buzzer with a 3-pointer that bounced off the rim and backboard before falling through the net.
-- Cal State Fullerton was the only Big West school which did not sign a player during the early signing period. The Titans have three seniors on their roster who will have to be replaced next season: Peltier, G Eric Williams and F Jer'Vaughn Johnson.
-- The Titans were second in the Big West in free-throw shooting (.733) after 14 games.
BY THE NUMBERS: .451 -- Opponents' field-goal percentage against Cal State Fullerton after 14 games. The Titans were seventh in the Big West Conference in field-goal percentage defense, seventh in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (.355), eighth in steals (5.92 spg) and last in blocked shots (1.14 bpg).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Obviously, it's hard to win when you commit 24 turnovers." -- Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton, following 85-78 loss to UC Irvine.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
-- at Cal Poly, Jan. 13
KEY MATCHUPS: Cal Poly F David Hanson and Cal State Fullerton F Orane Chin both rank among the Big West leaders in scoring and rebounding. Hanson was averaging 16.2 points and 5.1 rebounds after 12 games. Chin was averaging 15.4 points and 5.9 rebounds.
-- at Cal State Northridge, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: At 6-6, 240 pounds, Cal State Fullerton F Jer'Vaughn Johnson will have a considerable size advantage, but he may have trouble with athletic Cal State Northridge forward Lenny Daniel. Daniel, slightly built at 6-7 and 210 pounds, was fifth in the Big West in scoring (16.2 ppg) and third in rebounding (9.2 rpg) after 13 games.
-- Junior G Perry Webster was second in the Big West Conference in assists (6.0 apg) and first in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.26) after 14 games. Webster had 81 assists with only 19 turnovers. He has recorded 10 assists twice this season, first against San Diego on Dec. 4 and again versus Portland State on Dec. 12.
-- Junior F Orane Chin shot 42.2 percent from 3-point range over his team's first 14 games. He was tied for third in the Big West. He is one of only seven players in the Big West who has produced a 30-point game this season. Chin, who averages 15.4 points and 5.9 rebounds, scored 32 points against Portland State on Dec. 12.
-- Freshman G Isiah Umipig came off the bench to score a career-high 19 points in 19 minutes in an 85-78 loss to UC Irvine on Jan. 5. Umipig made 6 of 8 field-goal attempts and was a perfect 6 of 6 at the free-throw line. He topped his previous high of 15 points against Occidental on Dec. 18.