Cal State Fullerton was 6-12 overall, 2-4 in the Big West, a mere half-game ahead of last-place UC Davis through Jan. 16. The Titans had lost three of their last four games and seven of 10, and that record was not likely to improve considering the next three games on the conference schedule. They will be home against Long Beach State on Jan. 19, home against UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 22 and at Long Beach State on Jan. 29.
It looked as though the Titans had something to build on after they beat Pacific 54-51 on Dec. 30 and UC Riverside 83-77 in overtime on Jan. 8, but they couldn't sustain that effort when they concluded a four-game road trip with stops at Cal Poly and Cal State Northridge.
The Titans were woeful offensively in a 58-54 loss to Cal Poly on Jan. 13. The Big West's best defensive team held Cal State Fullerton to 32.7 percent shooting from the field and 2-of-18 (.111) shooting from 3-point range. Junior forward Andre Hardy scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, but the rest of the team combined to make 13 of 46 (.282).
Cal Poly exceeded its season averages with 58 points, 39.6 percent shooting from the field and 36.4 percent shooting from 3-point range. The Mustangs exploited a Cal State Fullerton defense that gave up 80 or more points in eight of its first 18 games, but that was nothing compared to what Cal State Northridge did two nights later.
The Matadors had lost nine of their last 11 games and 11 of 16 to start the season. They were, by most measures, the worst defensive team in the Big West, and coach Bobby Braswell was feuding with his players in the school newspaper.
The Titans, needing a win to keep up in a crowded race for second place, stunk up the Matadome in a way few opposing teams have this season. They shot 36.5 percent from the field, made only six of 19 from 3-point range and converted only 21 of 33 (.636) free-throw attempts in an 89-65 loss. The Matadors feasted on Cal State Fullerton's defense, shooting 55.6 percent from the field while making eight of 16 from beyond the arc.
There's still time for the Titans to climb back into the running for one of the middle seeds in the Big West tournament, but they may not be able to afford losing each of their next three conference games before coming home to open a three-game homestand that will pit them against UC Irvine on Feb. 3, UC Riverside on Feb. 5 and Cal State Northridge on Feb. 10.
--Freshman G Isiah Umipig came off the bench to post a career-high 19 points in 19 minutes against UC Irvine on Jan. 5. Umipig started in place of junior Perry Webster (concussion) and produced another 19-point effort against UC Riverside on Jan. 8.
--Junior G Perry Webster is proving to be a nice find for Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton. Webster, a community college transfer, averaged 8.3 points, 5.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals in his first 15 games for the Titans. He was leading the Big West in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.5) through Jan. 16.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Double-doubles in five games for junior F Andre Hardy, who missed the first 11 games after undergoing ankle surgery. Hardy had solidified a thin frontline, averaging 14.6 points and 9.8 rebounds through Jan. 16.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Guys who say slam dunks are only worth two points are out of it. That was a touchdown." -- Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton, to the Los Angeles Times, after G Gerard Anderson soared over a defender at last year's Big West Conference tournament for one of the top dunks of the year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Long Beach State, Jan. 19
KEY MATCHUPS: First-place Long Beach State has the best starting five in the Big West Conference, but coach Dan Monson is not blessed with great depth. Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton might make frequent substitutions to keep fresh players on the floor in an attempt to wear down the 49ers, but he'll need a big effort from his starters and reserves such as Isiah Umipig, Sedric Martin and Roger Guardia.
--vs. UC Santa Barbara, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: Gauntlet Week continues when the Titans play host to UC Santa Barbara, the team prognosticators picked to win the Big West before Long Beach State emerged as the favorite. The Gauchos feature the top two scorers in the Big West through Jan. 16, junior guard Orlando Johnson and junior forward James Nunnally. Johnson and Nunnally may prove to be too much for the Titans, but the Gauchos' frontline has been depleted by the loss of junior F Jaime Serna.
--Junior G Perry Webster missed his team's Jan. 8 game against UC Riverside after suffering a concussion during a Jan. 5 game against UC Irvine. He struggled in his return against Cal Poly on Jan. 13, but he matched his season high with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting against Cal State Northridge on Jan. 15.
--Senior F Jer'Vaughn Johnson recorded his first double-double of the season in an 83-77 victory over UC Riverside on Jan. 8, posting 17 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.
--Junior F Sedric Martin had a career-high 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in a loss to USC on Nov. 24 and added eight points on 4-of-6 shooting in a victory over Cal State Bakersfield on Nov. 27. He has been virtually invisible ever since, scoring 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting over the past 11 games through Jan. 16.