The Titans defeated the Highlanders in both of their meetings this season. Fullerton's defense proved to be the difference in both games as UCR shot a combined 33 percent in the two losses, including 23.7 percent from the three-point line. Shooting guard Josh Akognon scored 30 points in the Titans win on Jan. 7 at UCR and guard Marcio Lassiter scored a season-high 17 points off the bench in 25 minutes for the Titans on Jan. 23 at the Titan Gym.
The Highlanders upset No. 6 Cal Poly last night with a 62-54 win in the opening round of the tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The Titans, co-champions of the Big West regular season, head into the game after finishing one of the best regular seasons in CSUF history. The team has already tied the school record for wins with 21 and won a share of the title for the first time since 1976. The team's focus, however, has shifted to the tournament.
"One of the goals this year was to win the regular season title," Big West Co-Most Valuable Player Scott Cutley said. "We didn't get a top-2 seed like we wanted, but now it's time for the second goal [of winning the conference tournament]."
Despite not knowing which opponent the Titans would face earlier in the week, Titan Head Coach Bob Burton said he would not change his approach against whoever the team will play.
"We just have to work on what makes us a great basketball team," Burton said. "No individual match-ups right now. We just have to worry about ourselves."
Burton said the team will have a walk-through session today before the game and work on a few key match-ups. He said the possibility of three games in a row heading into the championship should give the Titans a bit of an advantage.
"They hate sitting around," Burton said. "Our team responds better when we play, and if we're good enough to win, then we will."
Fullerton guard Frank Robinson said the Titans are the team to beat and defense will be the key to winning.
"A lot of teams have to watch out," Robinson said. "The way we've lost to Northridge and UCSB [No. 1 and 2 seeds] gave us huge motivation for us to want to play them again."
The Titans face a potential match-up with Northridge in the semifinals and Santa Barbara in the finals.
The individual awards have also piled up this season. Cutley's MVP award, shared with UCSB's Alex Harris, was the first for Fullerton since Greg Bunch's in the 1976 season. The 6-foot-5 forward was named to the All-Conference first team and finished the season averaging 14.8 points and 7.9 rebounds in 16 games. Bunch was also on the only Titan team to win the Big West Tournament in the 1978 season.
Burton said Cutley was one of the best competitors he's had in his 38 years of coaching.
"There is no one I [would] rather have on my team," Burton said. "He's been one of the most feared players in the league."
Cutley isn't the only Titan basketball player to receive accolades recently. Robinson, who was the Big West Sixth Man of the Year in his first season with the Titans in 2005-06, was named the Big West Defensive Player of the Year and named to the All-Conference second team after finishing the season sixth in the league in scoring and fifth in rebounds.
"I guess I didn't prove myself to the coaches," Robinson said when asked about the second team selection. "But now it's just motivation to show them in the tournament."
The Big West's second-leading scorer Josh Akognon (19.1 PPG) was named to the All-Conference second team as well, also being named to the All-District 15 second team. The District 15 is made up of 18 schools in the Southwest, including schools from the Pac-10, Big West and the West Coast Conference.
Coach Burton was named the District 15 Coach of the Year despite losing out on conference honors to Northridge Coach Bobby Braswell.