Like Kevin Danna mentioned in his Sac State writeup, there are a small number of schools within driving distance in Northern California. One of these is the University of the Pacific.
I had a "mid-major crush" on Pacific during high school as my school's football team once played a playoff game at Pacific and I spent a breaks during the 2005 and 2006 runs listening to their win over Pitt and their upset attempt against Boston College on my little Sony Walkman AM/FM/TV radio.
I was on the fence about going to this game, but once I saw the men's/women's doubleheader, I knew I would be spending the fourth night of Christmas in Stockton.
To get to Stockton, I had to take I-5, which offers long stretches of unexciting housing developments, farmland, making a 60-mile drive feel like an interminable task without distractions.
One of the cities bypassed by I-5 is Lodi, a place affectionately captured by Bay Area band Creedence Clearwater Revival. Even if John Fogerty never visited the town, the area, at least from the highway view, makes me feel thankful for what I have.
After a little mix-up with directions, I finally settled into my seat for the opening game of the double-header: Pacific-Cal State Fullerton. As fun as non-conference play is, there is an increased amount of effort and energy when you play an opponent twice a year. Pacific won 72-67, and that meant I had time to wander around the Alex G. Spanos Center.
Though its wooden benches and wooden railing might remind you of a time before the shot clock and the Red Line, the Spanos Center has been around since 1981. Pacific has tried to modernize its look with its corner triangular ad space and video scoreboards.
The baseline walls are devoted to their banners; Conference banners from the California Bus League Big West and older on one side, national competitions on the other including their recent "ghost bracket" runs in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament:
Under the conference banners, Pacific also has jerseys from the All-America players in their various sports, including the most recent basketball star, former number-one pick Michael Olowokandi, who took them to the 1997 NCAA Tournament, where they lost to St. Joseph's, 75-65. The year Olowokandi became an All-American, the Tigers lost in the NIT to none other than the night's opponent: Fresno State.
But enough looking into the past, there was basketball to see!
I figured this game would be exciting, since these two schools have faced off at least once a season since Fresno State left for the WAC in 1992, and both teams were labeled "defensively challenged" in their Basketball State profiles. Plus, no game can be boring if the home team uses the College Basketball National Anthem as the tip-off music!
Like Sac State, Pacific fans also stand for the first basket, but this time the fans would not be standing long as Markus Duran nailed a superhoop thirty seconds into the game to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead. After taking a 5-4 lead, Pacific could not hit their shots, especially free throws.
Part of the nearly eight-minute drought came from Fresno State's defense, but part of it came from bad luck and poor decision-making. Shots bounced off the rim, and players passed up open threes to pass it inside so their teammate could get fouled and miss both free throws. However, Fresno State had similar issues, and at the under-eight media timeout, Fresno State was leading 14-7.
At the half, Fresno State lead by a football score, 22-16. When a half features almost as many turnovers (13) as made field goals (18), you know a run or two could swing the result. To ease the pain of struggling offenses, Pacific employed Latin Magic, a local Santana cover band, taking the place of the Pep Band during winter break. Though their repertoire also included other songs, Latin Magic managed to put the crowd into a dancing mood, even if they had to scramble together for impromptu entertainment with 2:17 to go.
Several times though the second half, the Pacific team started "defense" chants, because the atmosphere, outside of Latin Magic and the rare made shot, was as dead as a winter night in Helena.
Luckily, the fans caught on to the chants a few times for a few seconds, but schools should really develop alumni or community cheering sections to provide needed energy during semester breaks and the rest of the season. Who says crowd energy should be the chief export of the student section?
Throughout the game I tried to follow the lead of many recappers and tried to tweet during the game through my Droid and a recent holiday gift, a tablet-like device from a certain bookstore company. However, I was distracted by the media timeout entertainment: Build a Android Bot race, free throw contest and Latin Magic, even if my camera hand was less than stable. Plus, I have not yet learned to think in 140 characters or less.
Pacific was able to cut the lead to three, 30-27, but a technical foul by Trevin Harris and a pair of free throws put the Bulldogs up five. Pacific tried to get closer, but Fresno State kept getting blocks and hitting their free throws to win, 55-47.
Both teams are predicted to finish sixth in their respective conferences and from the night's performance, Pacific's CIT streak might be in danger.
Fresno State will move above the Red Line with Nevada next season into the Mountain West. Hopefully next year, the Tigers can get a RLU for revenge, or at least play the game before Finals, so the students can see a competitive game.
FRESNO STATE 55, at PACIFIC 47 12/29/2011
FRESNO STATE 6-8 (0-0) -- T. Johnson 4-11 2-3 10; S. Shepp 3-5 0-0 8; J. Brown 2-5 3-6 7; K. Olekaibe 4-11 0-2 9; J. Wills 3-6 6-6 12; K. Foster 1-2 4-4 6; L. McGaughey 1-6 0-0 3; G. Johnson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-48 15-21 55. PACIFIC 4-7 (0-0) -- L. McCloud 4-8 4-7 13; T. Fulton 3-11 0-0 7; C. Beatty 5-9 0-0 10; K. Kelley 3-5 0-6 6; M. Duran 1-3 0-0 3; R. De Souza 0-8 0-0 0; R. Rivera 1-4 2-2 4; M. Cotton 0-1 0-0 0; A. Eakles 0-0 0-0 0; T. Harris 2-2 0-0 4; A. Bock 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-53 6-15 47.
Three-point goals: FRES 4-15 (J. Wills 0-1; G. Johnson 0-1; S. Shepp 2-4; K. Olekaibe 1-5; K. Foster 0-1; L. McGaughey 1-3), PAC 3-17 (A. Bock 0-2; C. Beatty 0-2; M. Duran 1-3; L. McCloud 1-3; T. Fulton 1-3; R. De Souza 0-4); Rebounds: FRES 34 (T. Johnson 10), PAC 33 (C. Beatty 10); Assists: FRES 7 (S. Shepp 3), PAC 5 (R. De Souza 2); Total Fouls -- FRES 14, PAC 18; Fouled Out: FRES-None; PAC-R. Rivera.