Cal State Fullerton bounces back for series split with CSUN

A night after being scolded by Coach Dedrique Taylor for a lack of effort, the Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team bounced back on Sunday with a complete-game victory over Cal State Northridge, 85-77, at Titan Gym.

The Titans lost the opener of the two-game Big West Conference series on Saturday night despite CSUN being without its two leading scorers, and Taylor lamented his team’s lack of intensity.

“They responded the right way and were really scrappy against a good team,” Taylor said following Sunday’s win. “We didn’t really talk about offense or defense before the game, just doing what we do in practice and playing hard.”

Sunday’s rematch was close throughout, but the Titans finally took control with a late run. Leading 68-67 with 4:48 left, they outscored the Matadors 13-6, Vincent Lee scoring seven points and Dante Maddox Jr. and Tory San Antonio hitting 3-pointers. That gave the Titans (3-4 overall, 2-4 Big West) an eight-point lead with 1:48 left and the Matadors couldn’t get closer than six points the rest of the way.

Lee led the team with a career-high 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. Lance Spivey added 13 points off the bench, Maddox had 11 off the bench and San Antonio had 10.

“We did a good of finding Vincent inside,” Taylor said of the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward. “I think we can score enough, but we have to buy in to playing the right way. We know what Vincent can do. We have enough guys who can shoot and score inside, we just have to have more of an effort to playing hard.”

The Matadors (5-4, 1-1) were again without TJ Starks (18.1 ppg) and Lance Coleman (15.7 ppg), and the Titans put a wall around guard Brendan Harrick, who made seven 3-pointers on Saturday. Miles Brookins (6.3 ppg) also missed the game for CSUN.

Darius Brown scored 14 points with six rebounds and seven assists for CSUN. Vante Hendrix scored 14 and Atin Wright had 22 points off the bench.

“We played really hard but I think we’ve got to get a little smarter at times,” CSUN coach Mark Gottfried said. “We had some critical errors but our effort was there. We had some guys out and people stepped up. Atin stepped in there and had a phenomenal game, George (Nwogu) got a few minutes – he hadn’t played a whole lot.

“When Festus (Ndumanya) got in foul trouble that hurt us some. We’re still learning, we have to get better defensively, we have to get a little better at executing our offense and getting the right shot. There’s no way I could fault our effort, we just came up a little bit short.”

UP NEXT

Cal State Fullerton is scheduled to host Hawaii on Friday and Saturday, with both games at 3 p.m.

CSUN is scheduled to host UC Santa Barbara on Friday and Saturday, with both games at 4 p.m.

.@vincemikelee on the team win and his individual performance. #TusksUp pic.twitter.com/zwhcfIPKEA

— Titans Men’s Basketball (@FullertonMBB) January 18, 2021

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Cal State Fullerton can’t match UCSB’s balance in Big West opener

SANTA BARBARA — Junior guard Trey Maddox Jr. had a career-high 27 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough for Cal State Fullerton as UC Santa Barbara used a balanced attack and pulled away in the second half to defeat the Titans, 81-63, in a Big West Conference game on Friday night at the Thunderdome.

The Gauchos led by seven at halftime, then took control in the second half when Miles Norris punctuated a 13-2 run with a fast-break dunk that pushed the margin to 51-35 with 10:29 left. The Titans never got closer than 11 the rest of the way and the margin was extended to 21 in the final five minutes.

Maddox scored Fullerton’s first 10 points and finished 11 for 16 from the field, including a 5-for-8 mark from 3-point range, in 35 minutes. Sophomore Vincent Lee added 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting and grabbed four rebounds for the Titans (1-1 overall, 0-1 Big West), who were playing their first game since Dec. 13 because of a 14-day quarantine for COVID-19 test results. Senior Josh Hall had eight points and 10 rebounds.

Ajare Sanni led UCSB (5-3, 1-2) with 19 points (13 in the second half), four rebounds and five assists. He was 8 for 11 from the field, including 3 for 3 from 3-point range. JaQuori McLaughlin had 13 points and six assists, and Norris had 13 points and three blocked shots. Amadou Sow had 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting despite being limited to 17 minutes because of foul trouble. Robinson Idehen added seven points and nine rebounds.

Fullerton had 17 turnovers and just 10 assists. UCSB shot 53.1% overall, including 20 for 31 (64.5%) in the second half. The Gauchos, who dropped their first two Big West games at UC Irvine on Sunday and Monday, were an efficient 5 for 9 from 3-point range after halftime. UCSB had a season-high nine steals and just 12 turnovers to go with 22 assists.

The Titans and Gauchos play the second game of their two-game series on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Thunderdome. The game can be streamed on ESPN3.

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UC Irvine basketball atop Big West preseason media poll

For the fourth consecutive season – and seventh in the last eight – the UC Irvine men’s basketball team is the choice to win the Big West Conference regular-season title in the preseason media poll.

UCI received 18 first-place votes from the 28-member media panel to top the annual poll with 270 points. UC Santa Barbara finished second with 254 points (nine first-place votes). The remaining first-place nod went to UC Davis, which came in third with 182 points. Hawaii placed fourth with 165 points, followed by UC Riverside in fifth (160) and Long Beach State in sixth (141). First-year Big West member Cal State Bakersfield was seventh. Cal State Northridge (102 points), Cal State Fullerton (95) and Cal Poly (54) rounded out the rest of the poll, respectively.

UC San Diego, in its inaugural season as a Big West member, has started a four-year reclassfication period from NCAA Division II to Division I. The Tritons will not be recognized in the standings, so they were not included in the poll.

UCI (21-11 overall, 13-3 Big West last season), returns 53 percent of its scoring offense and two all-conference players (junior forward Collin Welp and senior center Brad Greene). Coming off their eighth consecutive winning season and a second straight Big West regular-season title, the Anteater roster includes 13 underclassmen and five new faces.

Welp, the 2019-20 Big West Sixth Man of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection, is UCI’s top returning scorer after averaging 13 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting from the field. Last season, Welp led the team in 3-point field goal percentage (44.2 percent) and was second in rebounding (5.9 rpg). Greene averaged 9 points and a Big West-best 7.7 rebounds per game. His 1.4 blocked shots per game ranked second in the conference.

Welp and Long Beach State junior guard Chance Hunter were named to the media’s six-player preseason all-conference team.

Hunter led LBSU (11-21, 6-10 last season) in scoring (13.9 ppg) and ranked in the conference’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding (5.9 rpg), field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage (41.7 percent) last season.

UC Riverside’s Arinze Chidom, UC Davis’ Ezra Manjon and the UCSB duo of JaQuiri McLaughlin and Amadou Sow joined Welp and Hunter on the preseason all-conference team.

UCI opens the season with a neutral site game against Pepperdine on Nov. 25 at San Diego State’s Viejas Arena. The Anteaters square off with host SDSU two days later.

BIG WEST PRESEASON MEDIA POLL

1. UC Irvine (18 first-place votes) – 270

2. UC Santa Barbara (9) – 254

3. UC Davis (1) – 182

4. Hawaii – 165

5. UC Riverside – 160

6. Long Beach State – 141

7. Cal State Bakersfield – 117

8. Cal State Northridge – 102

9. Cal State Fullerton – 95

10. Cal Poly (SLO) – 54

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Cal State Fullerton women focus on future after Big West tourney loss to Hawaii

  • After finding the lane blocked by a Hawaii defender, Cal State Fullerton forward Amiee Book passes the ball off during a Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinal game on Wednesday night at Long Beach State. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton guard Raina Perez #2 takes a shot in the first half against Hawaii in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

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  • CSU Fullerton guard Raina Perez #2 works her way to the basket in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • Hawaii guard Julissa Tago #0 stretches for a rebound against CSU Fullerton in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton guard Raina Perez #2 finds her shot blocked by a Hawaii defender in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton forward Amiee Book #13 tries to work her way to the basket against Hawaii in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman chats with guard Nae Nae Calhoun #24 in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • A lone credentialed spectator watches the game from the upper row of the Walter Pyramid in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • Hawaii forward Amy Atwell #25 takes a shot in the Walter Pyramid empty of fans in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton head coach Jeff Harada gets frustrated after a turnover in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton guard Raina Perez #2 runs the offense in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton guard Raina Perez #2 drives the ball to the basket around Hawaii guard Nae Nae Calhoun #24 in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton forward Carolyn Gill #23 loses the ball under her basket in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton head coach Jeff Harada watches from his bench in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton bench erupts after a 3-pointer in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton guard Raina Perez, right, has the ball stripped away by Hawai’i forward Myrrah Joseph #5 in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton forward Madison Freemon #22 reaches for a rebound against Hawaii in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton and Hawaii in a spectator free area in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • CSU Fullerton guard Taylor Turney #21 scores on a layup in the Big West Conference women’s tournament quarterfinals in Long Beach on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

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LONG BEACH — The revival of women’s basketball at Cal State Fullerton took a pause Wednesday night. But Coach Jeff Harada says that is all it will be.

The Titans posted their first winning season since 1991 then won their first Big West Conference Tournament game since 2015 on Tuesday, but they were beaten by Hawaii 72-59 in their quarterfinal game at the Walter Pyramid.

They finish the season 17-14, return everyone for the 2020-21 season, and have learned a lot about winning games and handling adversity.

“I’m extremely proud of what they have accomplished this season,” said Harada, in his third season. “They put up with me every day, and I can be tough and don’t let them slide. But all that is why we are where we are.

“This doesn’t take away anything we accomplished this season.”

“We’ve gained so much confidence this season,” junior Taylor Turney said. “We were picked to finish ninth in the league, and we almost finished second and we got to the quarterfinals.

“We’ve already talked about what we can do next season, how we can take this further.”

The Titans were playing for the second time in as many days while Hawaii finished its season Saturday. The Rainbow Wahines have one of the deepest benches in the league; nine players rotated into the game and seven finished with seven points or more.

The score was tied at 6-6 when Hawaii went on a 12-1 run to take an 18-7 lead after a quarter, basically putting a hold on the game and allowing the Wahine to dictate the pace and keep Fullerton chasing.

The Titans made just two of 13 shots in the first quarter.

“They sped us up early and threw off our timing,” Harada said. “When we did get opportunities, we kind of rushed our shots. That was basically the game. The margin the last three quarters was just two points.”

Hawaii did whatever it could to take Big West Player of the Year Raina Perez out of the game, crowding her regardless of where she was on the court.

“They switched screens and built a wall around her so that she couldn’t even kick a pass out,” Harada said.

Perez scored 10 points and made just four of 20 shots for 10 points. Julissa Tago led Hawaii with 15 points, and Nae Calhoun had 10. Turney led the Titans with 16 points and Aimee Book added 14.

Hawaii coach Laura Beeman said the Wahine’s depth was a factor.

“We have two or three players on the bench who are good enough to start, but no one feels entitled because we use everyone,” she said. “We pick each other up knowing we have that much bench.”

The women’s tournament continues with semifinals on Friday afternoon at the Honda Center. Eighth-seeded Cal Poly, which defeated No. 3 seed UC Irvine, will face top-seeded UC Davis at noon and Hawaii will face No. 2 seed UC Santa Barbara at 2:30 p.m. The championship game is Saturday at 3 p.m.

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Cal State Fullerton women avenge earlier losses to CSUN in Big West tourney opener

LONG BEACH — Cal State Fullerton junior Taylor Turney had to make a frantic phone call a few hours before Tuesday’s Big West Conference women’s basketball tournament game against Cal State Northridge.

She had to call her parents, who were driving into Southern California from their home outside of Las Vegas. The conference decided Tuesday afternoon to prohibit spectators at all of this week’s men’s and women’s tourney games because of the coronavirus threat.

“I heard at practice,” she said. “What? No fans? My family was driving in. They were in Barstow and turned around. My mom was crying, but I think she’ll be OK.”

No doubt. Turney had a brilliant effort in the sixth-seeded Titans’ 67-52 first-round win at the Walter Pyramid, scoring 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting with three 3-pointers and nine rebounds to advance the team to a Wednesday quarterfinal against fourth-seeded Hawaii.

It was the first tourney win for Fullerton since 2015, on the heels of the program’s first winning season since 1991. The Titans snuffed out a seventh-seeded CSUN team that had swept the two regular-season meetings, this time holding the Matadors to 31 percent shooting and forcing 13 turnovers.

Turney stepped up on a night when Big West Player of the Year Raina Perez had shooting issues early but finished with 14 points, 11 assists, four steals and seven rebounds.

“It’s another step in learning how to win,” Fullerton head coach Jeff Harada said. “We lost the last two regular-season games and missed a chance to lock up the No. 2 seed, but it says a lot about the maturity of this team in learning how to win big games and put losses behind you.”

Fullerton (17-13) scored 32 of its 67 points in the paint and turned the ball over just seven times. Forwards Aimee Book (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Carolyn Gill (10 points, 3 blocked shots) also contributed.

Meghann Henderson led CSUN with 15 points and seven rebounds.

“They did a very good job tonight,” CSUN coach Justin Flowers said. “We had some defensive breakdowns and gave up too many easy field goals. It was different than the first two games.”

Perez and Turney have made a huge impact on the Titans’ program. Harada had to build a team from scratch and hit the transfer portal to find Perez, who started her career at Northern Arizona, and Turney, who started at San Jose State.

“They put a lot of emphasis on me tonight,” Perez said, “but you can impact the game in other ways. I started looking for my teammates instead of worrying about my shot. It was great to see the team pick me up.”

The conference decision to shutter the game from fans was a response to the growing number of coronavirus breakouts in Southern California. Only team personnel, game management, the media and a handful of ancillary personnel were in the Pyramid.

The first game between host Long Beach State and Cal Poly had an unusual feel. The second game, which didn’t start until nearly 9 p.m., was a bit more eerie, with the voices of coaches and the ESPN broadcast team the dominant sounds.

“It made it easier for me to talk to the defense,” Harada said. “I’m not sure if it help or hurt. I’m sure we had some fans who were sad because we’ve drawn a nice following this season.”

“It was awkward not having fans at the game, but in the end, the game’s the same,” CSUN’s Henderson said.

“I’m a coach. It didn’t affect me at all,” Flowers said. “I’m really not sure it was a big deal. It’s not a completely foreign thing for us when we play home games like this when (no) students are in school.”

Eighth-seeded Cal Poly will meet third-seeded UC Irvine in the first quarterfinal on Wednesday at 6 p.m. followed by Fullerton and Hawaii at approximately 8:30 p.m. The semifinals are Friday afternoon at the Honda Center, with the championship game scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m., also at the Honda Center.

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Cal State Fullerton gets big game from Johnny Wang in loss at Hawaii

HONOLULU — Junior forward Johnny Wang scored a career-high 21 points, but Cal State Fullerton fell behind by double-digits early in the second half and couldn’t erase the deficit in a 70-59 loss to Hawaii on Thursday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Fullerton (10-18 overall, 5-8 Big West Conference) trailed just 38-36 at halftime, but the Rainbow Warriors (16-11, 7-6 Big West) extended the margin to 46-36 less than four minutes into the second half, and the Titans never got closer than six the rest of the way.

Fullerton had 22 turnovers (14 before halftime), which Hawaii converted into 18 points, and was outscored by nine points at the free-throw line (22-13).

Fullerton shot 20 for 41 (49 percent) overall, including a 6-for-18 mark (33 percent) from 3-point range, but the Titans were just 13 for 22 at the foul line (59 percent). Hawaii, which swept the season series from the Titans, shot 43 percent (22 for 51), and just 4 for 13 from beyond the arc but converted 22 of 27 free-throw attempts.

Wang finished 7 for 9 from the field and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line and also grabbed five rebounds. Senior guard Brandon Kamga had 12 points (eight in the first half) and three rebounds but struggled with turnovers and fouled out in 36 minutes. Senior forward Jackson Rowe had 13 points and three rebounds. Sophomore guard Wayne Arnold contributed eight points off the bench, all in the first half.

Drew Buggs paced Hawaii with 20 points. He opened the second half with two free throws and hit a jumper at the 16:07 mark to give the hosts their 46-36 lead.

The Titans trimmed the margin to six again with five minutes to play, but a Buggs jumper made it an 11-point game, Justin Webster followed with a 3-pointer, then Zigmars Raimo added a layup to make it 64-48. Hawaii maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

Eddie Stansberry added 15 points for Hawaii and Weber had 10.

Fullerton next plays at Cal State Northridge on Saturday at 7 p.m., while Hawaii is home against UC Riverside the same night.

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Austen Awosika, Cal State Fullerton rout Cal State Stanislaus

FULLERTON — Senior guard Austen Awosika had a career-high 26 points and Cal State Fullerton rolled past Cal State Stanislaus 82-62 for a homecoming victory on Saturday night at Titan Gym.

Awosika, who shot 8 for 13 from the field and 9 for 11 from the foul line, added six rebounds and six assists. Awosika, whose previous high was 19 at St. Mary’s on Dec. 11, 2018, topped that with 20 in the first half.

Sophomore guard Wayne Arnold had 14 points (four 3-pointers), four rebounds and two assists for Fullerton (2-2), while senior guard Brandon Kamga added 12 points and nine rebounds and freshman guard Tory San Antonio had five points, eight rebounds, four steals and two assists.

Ty Davis had 16 points for the Warriors, an NCAA Division II program, and Darius Scott added eight points and seven rebounds.

The Titans led 42-34 at halftime before pulling away in the second half. They led 53-41 at the 14:38 mark when a 9-2 run extended the margin to 62-43.

Fullerton shot 50.8 percent (30 for 59) from the field and 80 percent (16 for 20) from the free-throw line. The Titans outrebounded the visitors 38-30 and assisted on 15 of their 30 baskets.

Fullerton does not play again until it hosts Hofstra next Sunday (Nov. 24) at 5 p.m.

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Cal State Fullerton baseball blanks Long Beach State in series opener

FULLERTON — For the first time in decades, the Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State baseball programs are meeting in a late-season series that has no postseason implications for either side.

That doesn’t mean the longtime Big West Conference rivals lack motivation when it comes to an opportunity to earn bragging rights over each other.

Pitchers Timothy Josten and Kyle Luckham combined on a shutout as the Titans defeated Long Beach 6-0 in their series opener on Thursday night at Goodwin Field.

The Titans, who swept the teams’ annual nonconference series at Blair Field earlier this season, are trying to complete a six-game season sweep for the first time since 2013.

Fullerton (23-25, 9-10 Big West) spent much of the night protecting a 1-0 lead before breaking the game open with a four-run seventh inning, highlighted by Kameron Guangorena’s two-run single.

Josten (3-4) had his best start of the season, as the left-hander held LBSU (11-39, 5-14) to four hits through seven innings while striking out two. Luckham allowed just three hits in the final two innings. It was the Titans’ third shutout of the season.

Zach Lew went 3 for 3 with two runs and an RBI to pace Fullerton, which will miss the NCAA postseason for the first time since 1991.

Senior Hank LoForte and Jacob Pavletich kicked off the final home series of their CSF careers with solid nights. LoForte went 3 for 4 with a walk, one run scored and an RBI. Pavletich went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk and a run scored.

Sophomore left-hander Adam Seminaris (3-9) allowing just one unearned run in six innings for LBSU, scattering four hits and two walks while striking out five.

Three LBSU players had multi-hit games: Chris Jimenez and Jacob Hughey both went 2 for 4, while Aidan Malm went 2 for 3 with a walk. Hughey and Malm each had a double.

Long Beach had at least one runner on base in seven of the nine innings and loaded the bases in the sixth with two hits and a walk, but Fullerton shortstop Brett Borgogno caught Chase Luttrell’s sinking line drive to end the threat. Long Beach managed a pair of singles and a walk in the ninth inning but stranded two runners in scoring position to end the game.

The series continues Friday at 8:15 p.m., with right-hander Nick Avila (0-4, 4.50) scheduled to start for LBSU. Fullerton has not named a started for Game 2. The series finale, which will be Senior Day for the Titans, is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.

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Whicker: Cal State Fullerton’s seniority vs. UC Irvine’s gaudy record in Big West final

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Josh Pitts, right, shows his excitement as guard Jamal Smith draws a foul and scored a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, left, tries to drive toward the basket as Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr. defends during the first half of Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinal at Honda Center. Allman came up with several big defensive plays in the final minutes of the Titans’ 64-58 victory. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

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  • UC Santa Barbara guard Ar’Mond Davis, left, goes up for a basket under as Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr. slams a dunk during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad celebrates after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor gives instructions to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad, top, shoots over UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., center, drives hard around UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon, left, to put up a shot for the score late in the second half of the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, blocks the shot by UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Jamal Smith celebrates after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, right, runs into Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood and loses his footing in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, center, scores a basket around UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon, right, in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, blocks a shot in the lane by UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin to maintain the Titans’ lead during the final minutes of their Big West Tournament semifinal on Friday night at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • As UC Santa Barbara guard Ar’Mond Davis, left, reacts after the Gauchos turned over the ball to Cal State Fullerton, guard Landon Kirkwood, center, and forward Jackson Rowe, right, do a little celebrating in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara head coach Joe Pasternack yells instructions to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Fullerton at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, left, and Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, wait for the ball to come down for the rebound in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang reaches to control the rebound against Santa Barbara in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Davon Clare, center, moves toward the basket between UC Santa Barbara forward Robinson Idehen, left, and forward Jarriesse Blackmon, right, in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, right, scoops top a loose ball in front of UC Santa Barbara guard Sekou Toure in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara forward Amadou Sow hangs from the rim after a dunk, as Cal State Fullerton forward Josh Pitts, left, and forward Jackson Rowe stand nearby during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin, right, shoots over Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara forward Amadou Sow, left, shoots over Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad dunks with two seconds left for the final points of his team’s 64-58 victory over UC Santa Barbara in Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinal at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang, left, lets out a yell after the Titans scored to extend their lead over UC Santa Barbara with minutes left in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, left, and guard Austen Awosika, right, celebrate the Titans’ win over UC Santa Barbara in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad is being congratulated by the fans after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright grabs the rebound in front of Long Beach State center Temidayo Yussuf, center, as UC Irvine forward Elston Jones, left, reaches in during the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, right, goes up to the basket as UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, left, shoots in front of UC Irvine forward Elston Jones during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Evan Leonard, right, tries to block the shot by Long Beach State guard Drew Cobb during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Evan Leonard, center, goes up for a dunk next to Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine coach Russell Turner, center, reacts after a foul was called on the team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Long Beach State at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine forward Collin Welp, right, is fouled by Long Beach State forward KJ Byers during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine forward JC Butler, left, goes up to the basket as Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, center, drives through traffic to score in front of Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, right, during the second half of their Big West Tournament semifinal on Friday night at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, right, steals the ball from Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, back, tries to steal the ball from UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard, right, shoots over Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, center, shoots between UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright, left, and forward Tommy Rutherford during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Long Beach State guard Drew Cobb can only watch as UC Irvine forward JC Butler controls the loose ball in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Long Beach State guard Drew Cobb, right, and UC Irvine forward JC Butler go after a loose ball in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward JC Butler, Long Beach State guard Drew Cobb and Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, from left, go after a loose ball in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Elston Jones, right, keeps the ball away from Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, left, and another Long Beach State player in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford, center, muscles his way past Long Beach State forward KJ Byers, left, and forward Mason Riggins, right, to score a basket in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Long Beach State center Temidayo Yussuf, right, protects a rebound from UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway, center, gets to the rebound before Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, left, and guard Deishuan Booker, right, in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway gestures after scoring during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Long Beach State at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Irvine forward Tommy Rutherford, left, tries to block a shot by Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Irvine players cheer their team on as they score another basket with seconds left in their Big West Tournament semifinal victory over rival Long Beach State on Friday night at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Long Beach State forward Mason Riggins, left, wipes his face with a towel as the team plays the final minutes of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Irvine at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. UC Irvine won 75-67. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

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ANAHEIM — As a freshman, Kyle Allman Jr. averaged 5.3 points. Khalil Ahmad averaged 14.3. Jamal Smith averaged as many calories as he could amass, as a redshirt.

Dedrique Taylor, Cal State Fullerton’s coach, was in his third year, but it seemed like every minute was a do-over, a disheartening trip back to the starting blocks. He won 10 games in that 2015-16 season, giving him a total of 30 and an average of 10.

On Friday night at Honda Center, the Titans put together a 24-10 run, caught and passed UC Santa Barbara, and won their fifth consecutive Big West Tournament game 64-58.

On Saturday night they play UC Irvine, the top seed, in hopes of a second consecutive title.

“I looked out there and I saw guys that looked nothing they did back then,” Taylor said. “Back then they didn’t have facial hair, they were uglier than ever. Now they’re muscular, they’re physically mature, and you have to credit their experience, their belief. I think tonight we managed to impose our will.”

The third-seeded Titans squared their record at 16-16 thanks to smothering defense at the end. Second-seeded UCSB missed its final 10 field-goal attempts and didn’t have a basket in the last 7:07.

Allman blocked his 11th and 12th shots of the season, Jackson Rowe added another rejection, and Smith was the point of the spear, taking charges, making steals and influencing a game while only taking (and making) one shot.

The Titans are embracing seniors like Allman, Smith and Ahmad because they’ll have to let go of them, whenever this team loses.

“They’ve changed the face of this basketball program,” Taylor said.

“We talked last night about how we know we’ve only got a couple of games left together,” Ahmad said, “and we don’t want it to end soon.”

Ahmad has 60 points in these two tournament games and 1,714 overall. Allman, the all-time CSF leader in games played, has 1,617 points.

And Taylor shook his head when someone cited the accumulated minutes. Ahmad played 39 Friday, 43 in Thursday’s overtime win over UC Davis. Allman played 40 Friday, 43 Saturday.

“If I was out there playing, I might be concerned about minutes,” Taylor said. “These guys are 21, 22 years old. It’s go time.”

UCI beat Fullerton by seven at home and by 17 on the road this season, but in last year’s final the Titans dominated 71-55.

This UCI team (29-5) is plus-7.5 in rebounds-per-game, which might be the main reason it has a 15-game winning streak and is on the cusp of becoming the first 30-game winner in the Big West since UNLV’s 34-1 NCAA semifinal loser in 1991.

It was the proximate cause of its 75-67 semifinal win over a Long Beach State team that came in with six consecutive victories and the only Big West win over the Anteaters all season.

UCI won the boards 21-11 in the second half, which led to a 16-4 edge, overall, in second-chance points. Once the Anteaters decided to drive the ball on a night when they went 2 for 12 from deep, the formula kicked in.

But it is really hatched on the Bren Center floor, every other day in practice, when Coach Russell Turner calls for the 2-on-2 rebounding drill.

“Two big guys, two little guys, all of them blocking each other out,” Turner said. “No out of bounds, no fouls.”

“Love that drill,” guard Robert Cartwright said, rolling his eyes.

“And we got a lot of big guys,” guard Evan Leonard said, smiling wearily.

“A lot of Hall of Fame coaches have used it, it’s been around a long time,” Turner said. “I love it. It’s a chance for us to embrace our physicality.”

Jonathan Galloway, Tommy Rutherford and Elston Jones swallowed up 19 of those rebounds, and the Anteaters physicaled their way to a 48-34 second half. They also managed to get through the 49ers’ press, replacing their turnovers with 2-on-1 breaks and dunks. But it was a nervous night for the Anteaters, who trailed by seven early in the second half and, at times, were exhibiting the thousand-yard-stare of a favorite on the defensive.

Cartwright’s career-high 17-point night, built mostly on drives, solved much of that. But the Anteaters could have used the quickness and playmaking of Eyassu Worku, who missed the game with a leg injury.

“He’s playing tomorrow night,” Turner said. “We didn’t want him to play back to back. And I wanted to make sure he played in the final. So it was a gamble that could have easily not paid off, not playing him tonight.

“His speed and decision-making ability are critical. He gives us another speed handler. And not having him also takes away an opportunity to give our guys some rest. We played Rob (Cartwright) 35 minutes. He’s got great natural energy, and he wasn’t just settling for jump shots tonight. I’m of the opinion he can handle those minutes, plus whatever we can get out of it tomorrow.”

He was referring to Saturday, the first time that one of these days won’t have a tomorrow.

—- BIG WEST TOURNAMENT —-

No. 1 seed UC IRVINE (29-5) vs. No. 3 Cal State Fullerton (16-16)

Championship game

When: Saturday, 9 p.m.

Where: Honda Center

TV: ESPN2

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Cal State Fullerton rallies to beat UCSB, sets up Big West title game against UC Irvine

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, blocks a shot by UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin to maintain the Titans’ lead with minutes left in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Davon Clare, center, moves toward the basket between UC Santa Barbara forward Robinson Idehen, left, and forward Jarriesse Blackmon, right, in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

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  • UC Santa Barbara guard Ar’Mond Davis, left, goes up for a basket under as Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, right, scoops top a loose ball in front of UC Santa Barbara guard Sekou Toure in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara forward Amadou Sow, left, shoots over Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin, right, shoots over Cal State Fullerton forward Jackson Rowe during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • UC Santa Barbara forward Amadou Sow hangs from the rim after a dunk, as Cal State Fullerton forward Josh Pitts, left, and forward Jackson Rowe stand nearby during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang reaches to control the rebound against Santa Barbara in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, left, and Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, wait for the ball to come down for the rebound in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, left, tries to drive toward the basket as Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr. defends during the first half of Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinal at Honda Center. Allman came up with several big defensive plays in the final minutes of the Titans’ 64-58 victory. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad dunks with two seconds left for the final points of his team’s 64-58 victory over UC Santa Barbara in Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinal at Honda Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, left, and guard Austen Awosika, right, celebrate the Titans’ win over UC Santa Barbara in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • As UC Santa Barbara guard Ar’Mond Davis, left, reacts after the Gauchos turned over the ball to Cal State Fullerton, guard Landon Kirkwood, center, and forward Jackson Rowe, right, do a little celebrating in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., center, drives hard around UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon, left, to put up a shot for the score late in the second half of the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood, center, scores a basket around UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon, right, in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara guard Max Heidegger, right, runs into Cal State Fullerton guard Landon Kirkwood and loses his footing in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • UC Santa Barbara head coach Joe Pasternack yells instructions to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Fullerton at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr., right, blocks the shot by UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Jamal Smith celebrates after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Johnny Wang, left, lets out a yell after the Titans scored to extend their lead over UC Santa Barbara with minutes left in the semifinal of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad, top, shoots over UC Santa Barbara forward Jarriesse Blackmon during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor gives instructions to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad celebrates after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr. slams a dunk during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton forward Josh Pitts, right, shows his excitement as guard Jamal Smith draws a foul and scored a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad is being congratulated by the fans after defeating UC Santa Barbara in an NCAA college basketball game at the Big West men’s tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

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ANAHEIM — The all-Orange County rematch is on.

Third-seeded Cal State Fullerton came through with clutch defense to hold second-seeded UC Santa Barbara without a field goal in the final seven minutes of a 64-58 win in the Big West Tournament semifinals on Friday night.

The Titans’ win sets up a rematch of last year’s championship game against top-seeded UC Irvine, which defeated Long Beach State in Friday’s first semifinal. Fullerton won last year’s title game 71-55.

The Titans (16-16) trailed for much of the second half on Friday, but they went on a 7-0 run, capped by a Davon Clare floater, to tie the score with three minutes left.

Then Kyle Allman Jr. delivered one of the defensive plays of the game, blocking a Jay Nagle 3-point attempt. On the ensuing offensive possession, Khalil Ahmad, who finished with a game-high 28 points, drove to the rim and drew a goaltending call, giving Fullerton a two-point lead with 1:11 left.

UCSB (22-10) called a timeout and seemed to get a good look at the basket, but Allman again arrived in the nick of time for the Titans. He swatted Jaquori McLaughlin’s driving layup attempt out of bounds. McLaughlin got another try, but Jackson Rowe appeared for a violent block off the backboard.

“I think this group of guys, they believe,” Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor said. “They know what they’re capable of and down the stretch, they started to galvanize each other. We just swarmed them. We had some really crucial blocks at the front of the rim there. But our group of guys, we didn’t want to go home.”

Fullerton had to play the free-throw game after that. The Titans made enough of them and the defense was stout enough to hold on until Ahmad’s breakaway dunk clinched the win with two seconds left.

The two teams were evenly matched in the first half, fitting considering they finished tied for second in the Big West during the regular season. Both shot the ball around 45 percent from the floor and struggled from 3-point range. UCSB had a one-rebound advantage, and neither team allowed the other to get into the bonus.

The lone differences were that UCSB made three free throws and Fullerton never got to the line, and the Titans turned the ball over eight times to the Gauchos’ five. The result was a three-point UCSB lead at halftime.

But then UCSB’s cold shooting changed in the second half. The Gauchos made four of their next five attempts from 3-point range to open a 10-point lead.

But in the end, Fullerton’s defense responded when it needed to put the Titans a win away from a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

But standing in the way is their in-county rival. UCI beat Fullerton twice in the regular season, the first time by 17 points and the second by seven.

“Cannot wait,” Ahmad said. “Cannot wait.”

“We know what happened in the regular season,” added Jamal Smith, whom Taylor lauded for stabilizing the team with his play in the second half. “That definitely didn’t slip our mind and we’re coming full-force. We’re more connected than ever.”

.@CSFCoachTaylor on tonight’s win. #TusksUp pic.twitter.com/Eq2TMJiuxD

— Titans Men’s Basketball (@FullertonMBB) March 16, 2019

Not done yet. @oh_snaap25 #TusksUp pic.twitter.com/PcxTOgnxzp

— Titans Men’s Basketball (@FullertonMBB) March 16, 2019

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