Jeff Harada

CSUF women's basketball head coach Jeff Harada during a game at Titan Gym in February 2020. (Jordan Mendoza / Daily Titan)

Cal State Fullerton basketball will start the new year back on the court when the men’s and women’s teams play their Big West conference openers on Friday night.

On Dec. 17, the women’s team announced it had a positive COVID-19 test within the team, with the men’s team making the same announcement the following day. The positive tests meant that each team had to quarantine for 14 days, per NCAA protocol. 

This wasn’t a new experience for the men’s squad, as a positive test result in November led the team to call off its first three games. Head coach Dedrique Taylor said that the second quarantine was more frustrating than the first. 

“It was a little more difficult to handle just because we're training to play games, and we want to play games and the guys want to play games and they're working hard to play games. Right before you get a chance to play games and see where you really are, the plug gets pulled out,” Taylor said. 

The last time a CSUF basketball game was held was the men’s basketball season opener on Dec. 13. 

Jeff Harada, women’s basketball head coach, said that the holiday season made it even harder to handle the quarantine, as some players could not spend time back at home or they would risk the chance of missing the first set of conference games. 

Now back to meeting in person, the two teams will start 2021 by playing their first conference game against UC Santa Barbara on New Year’s Day. The teams will be back on the court the next day against the same team. 

Both Harada and Taylor stressed the difficulty — mentally and physically — in going from two weeks of not practicing to now having back-to-back games, even if players were able to condition from wherever they were quarantined. 

“All of a sudden, now you're going from zero to 100 miles an hour at once, and then you got two straight days back-to-back,” Harada said. “Game speed, that’s something you can't replicate.”

Given that the men’s team has only played one game this season after several cancelations, Taylor said that in the process of getting better the team is still trying to establish its identity, especially after not being in-person for 14 days.

“It's almost a joke, for a lot of different reasons, to expect us to play and then expect us to have or come up with any type of advantage,” Taylor said. “Those are things that we’re going to have to learn on the fly throughout the course of the game.”

Taylor’s squad will be tested as it travels to face the Gauchos on Jan. 1-2, while the women’s team will host UCSB on the same days.

The men’s team lost its two games against Santa Barbara last season by a combined 11 points and will have to go against preseason all-conference team members Amadou Sow and JaQuori McLaughlin, whose 17.2 points per game is fourth-best in the Big West. 

UCSB is coming off two straight losses to UC Irvine this past Sunday and Monday, but Taylor said that CSUF’s shooters and defensive plays make them a good team, in addition to its experience with 20 wins in the past three seasons. 

“I think they're a prolific team, one through eight or nine or 10, because they can all do different things,” Taylor said. “I think we're playing one of the better teams in our league.”

As for CSUF’s women’s basketball team, the squad has not played since Dec. 8, and are 0-3 on the season. UCSB’s women’s team is also searching for its first win after starting the season losing its first six games, including falling to UCI twice this past weekend.

Both teams rank at the bottom of the conference in points given up, as UCSB allows 79.2 points per game while CSUF allows 83 points per game. Harada said he wants his team to be consistent, primarily in taking care of the ball with an average of 26.3 turnovers a game, the most in the conference. But most importantly, he said he wants to see effort and energy to start conference play.

“I want us to come up with some consistency. Just channel our effort and our focus to the best that we can,” Harada said. “We're excited to be back, and I just hope that we can play with some energy, with some passion and some desire to go get our first win of the year.”

All games for CSUF men’s and women’s teams on Friday and Saturday will tipoff at 5 p.m. Both men’s games at Santa Barbara will be streamed on ESPN3, while both women’s games will be streamed on BigWest.TV.

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