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MASTER'S HOOPS HAS ITS FANATICS.

Byline: VINCENT BONSIGNORE

The woman with the cute little daughter glanced around Bross Gymnasium on the campus of The Master's College on Saturday and frowned. Then she reached for her cell phone and frantically dialed a number.

``It's 6:30 and this place is filling up fast,'' she said. ``So you better hurry up because I'm not sure how much longer I can save a seat for you.''

It was an hour before The Master's College men's basketball team would take the floor against rival Biola, yet even in laid-back Southern California, where it's cool to arrive at games after tipoff and leave before the final buzzer, the astute woman knew not to take any chances.

When it comes to The Master's College basketball, specifically its heated rivalry against Biola, there's no such thing as showing up late and leaving early, not if you want a seat, anyway.

This isn't just a game, it's an event. And even on the Saturday before classes resumed after Christmas break, Bross Gym was stuffed with an overflow crowd of students, alumni and local basketball fans.

The Master's College might be a mere blip on the major-college basketball radar screen, but you'd never tell that by attending a game there. The fans are every bit as fanatic about their Mustangs as Duke fans are about their Blue Devils and Kentucky fans about their Wildcats.

The setting is smaller, but the passion is no less intense. The only thing lacking is Dick Vitale shouting into a network microphone, although you get the feeling that even Dicky V. would be impressed with how crazy these fans are.

They're loud, knowledgeable, intense and devoted, erupting at all the right times and doing everything possible to give the home team an edge.

``It's a great setting,'' said Biola guard Kevin Augustine. ``This is what basketball is all about. Even at a small level like this, basketball is basketball. It's fun to come here.''

Augustine got off easy Saturday, thanks to a dominant performance in which he almost single-handedly led Biola to a blowout victory. In doing so, he never gave The Master's fans a chance to try to throw him off his game with their colorful antics.

But pity the poor opposing player who gets on the wrong side of the home folk in a close game, especially the ones who venture too close to the sideline separating the court from the Mustangs' student section.

Talk about getting an earful. The Master's fans rarely cross the line between creative and obnoxious - this is a strict Christian school, after all - but Bross Gym is their house and they constantly remind other players of that.

In their own crazy, unique way of course.

``That's what makes it fun,'' Augustine said. ``You want to play basketball in an atmosphere like that.''

Augustine has a unique perspective, having played major-college basketball at Nebraska and USC, an experience that took him to some of the most well-known venues in the country. Now that he's at tiny Biola, a school that supports its basketball team with much the same enthusiasm as The Master's does its team, Augustine has come to understand it's not the size of the stage that matters most, it's the intensity of the surroundings.

Watching him play in loud, partisan Bross Gym on Saturday, it was obvious he fed off the crazy scene in the same manner that a North Carolina player does when he ventures into Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke.

``What it all boils down to is basketball is basketball,'' Augustine said. ``Which is nice. It's about the love you have for the game and the fun you have. It's basketball.''
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 15, 2002
Words:612
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