March 8, 2008
Irvine, Calif. - Josh Akgonon scored 15 points, Frank Robinson had 14, Ray Reed had 12 and Marcus Crenshaw came off the bench for 10 to go with Scott Cutley's key interior defense Saturday night as Cal State Fullerton beat UC Irvine, 74-66, to capture a share of the Big West Conference championship, its first since 1976.
The Titans matched their school record with a 21st regular-season victory (21-8) and finished Big West play at 12-4 to be co-champions with UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge. Because of tie-breakers, UCSB, which beat Fullerton twice, will be the No. 1 seed in the Big West Tournament next week, CSUN will be No. 2 and Fullerton will be No. 3.
Fullerton receives a first-round bye and will play at 6 p.m. Thursday against the lowest remaining seed -- either Cal Poly, Long Beach State or UC Riverside. UC Irvine is the No. 5 seed and plays Wednesday night.
Patrick Sanders had 18 points to lead UC Irvine (15-15, 9-7), which lost its first home-court game of the season. It was UCI which snapped Fullerton's school-record 26-game home-court winning streak in 1984. Fullerton is now 9-5 on hostile courts this season and 10-5 away from Titan Gym.
"I don't care if we share it with 10 teams," said fifth-year Head Coach Bob Burton of the tri-championship. "This game was one of the highlights since I've been at Fullerton. We played great defense the whole game and UCI's 11-0 record at home shows how well they have played here.
"Cutley was a key guy for us because he guards Darren Fells real well. We can't have him in foul trouble. He's the glue. Frank also did a good job on Sanders."
"This feels really good," said Cutley. "We really wanted to get that done and then win the tournament. We've accomplished one of our goals.
"We're the No. 3 seed and those are the cards we were dealt. We'll have to take it from there -- one game at a time."
Marcus Morgan led the Titans with 8 rebounds and Akognon and Robinson each had six. Robinson's first was the 500th of his Titan career, putting him in the CSF career Top Ten.
"To get in the record books and win a championship in the same game is great. Our plan tonight was to stop Fells and contain Sanders."
Fells had 11 points and a game-high 9 rebounds but made only 3 of 8 shots. Sanders was 7-for-17 from the floor as UCI shot only 41 percent including 26 percent from behind the 3-point line. Fullerton shot 47 percent overall and 39 percent from the arc.
"Both teams were good defensively," said Burton.
Fullerton outrebounded UCI, 35-29, and committed three fewer turnovers -- 12 vs. 15.
Fullerton led wire to wire. The Titans jumped out to leads of 6-1 and 14-4 as UCI hit only one of its first 12 shots. But Morgan (3), Akognon (2) and Cutley (2) all got in foul trouble and the Titans settled for a 34-29 halftime lead.
UCI scored the first four points after intermisison to pull within one point but Reed scored the game's next 6 points for a 40-33 CSF lead. UC Irvine got as close as 3 points at 50-47 but the Titans got the next 6 points. UCI got back within 6 at 56-50 but Fullerton went on a 8-0 run keyed by two Crenshaw buckets for its biggest lead at 64-50 with 4:37 to play.