March 14, 2008
Anaheim, Calif. - Orange County rivals Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine will meet for the Big West Conference Tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA men's basketball tournament Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Anaheim Convention Center Arena.
No. 3-seed Cal State Fullerton (23-8) beat No. 2 seed Cal State Northridge (20-10), 83-68, and No. 5-seed UC Irvine (18-15) beat No. 1 seed UC Santa Barbara (23-8), 55-50, to set up the matchup. Fullerton has won only one Big West Tourney and made only one NCAA trip -- in 1978 -- while the Anteaters never have been to the "big dance."
The game will be televised live on ESPN2 but there are plenty of tickets available.
Josh Akognon scored 24 points, Scott Cutley added 17 and Frank Robinson had 15 along with a team-high 11 rebounds as the Titans beat the Matadors for the second time in three meetings. A 15-4 lead over the first five and a half minutes got the Titans off and running and they led by 18 points at the half.
The Matadors got as close as 10 points at 55-45 with 13:20 remaining but the Titans went on a 21-8 run to make it 76-53 with 4:32 left.
"I thought the key to the game was the start we got," said CSF Head Coach Bob Burton. "It gave us a lot of confidence and gave us a lot of cushion, which I knew we would need. Northridge plays so hard. It was a great win for us... to play this well is real exciting for us."
Fullerton and UCI never have met in the finals. Fullerton is 1-2 in championship games, beating Long Beach State in 1978 and losing to Fresno State in 1982 and UNLV in 1985. UCI lost in the finals in 1988 to Utah State and to New Mexico State in 1994.
"I was as surprised as everybody else," said Akognon of CSUN's slow start. "In the game in our house, they jumped on us quick."
Akognon made 3 of 7 3-point field goals and Fullerton finished 7-for-19 after going 7-for-46 in the first two meetings vs. CSUN combined. Akognon was 3-for-19 in those games.
Fullerton got a strong performance off the bench from Kenneth Alexander. With Marcus Morgan limited to 17 minutes because of foul trouble, Alexander played 22 minutes and matched his career high with 9 rebounds and also made 4 of 5 shots for 8 points.
Both Northridge and UCSB earned two byes into the semifinals while UCI had to eliminate Long Beach State and Pacific to get there. Fullerton had one bye and beat UC Riverside.
"I like playing," said Burton. "Tonight I think that was an advantage for us. Last night helped us and they had not played.
"Saturday will be a big game for both teams and both schools. Both teams will play hard and compete. I think it's terrific for Orange County and to get two new teams playing for the title."