UC Irvine continued to look logic in the face and laugh Thursday night. The Anteaters won another game which they had viable reasons--not just flimsy excuses--to lose.
And this time, there was more at stake. UCI opened Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. play in Crawford Hall with a 72-67 win over a San Jose State team that had been picked to finish second in a poll of conference coaches.
There were several reasons to expect UCI to struggle against the Spartans. San Jose State came into the game at 7-2; Irvine had sputtered to a 4-5 nonconference record. And the Anteaters were playing without junior guard Joe Buchanan, who suffered a bruise over his left knee in practice Wednesday. A team with a lack of depth grew even more shallow.
Mike Hess started in Buchanan's spot, and made 5 of 9 shots from the field and 3 of 4 free throws, including both ends of a one-and-one to give UCI a 70-65 lead with 49 seconds to play.
UCI forward Johnny Rogers was 9 of 14 from the field, including 2 of 3 from three-point range, and finished with a game-high 21 points. In their last outing, the Anteaters lost to a Nevada-Reno team that made 10 three-point shots. This time, UCI hit 5 of 11 three-pointers over San Jose State's frustrated zone defense.
Irvine used more zone defense against the Spartans than it has in any game this season. The zone helped keep UCI out of severe foul trouble, and it helped Brooks and Hess play 38 and 37 minutes, respectively.
"The zone helps," Hess said. "You don't have to play individual defense, and you don't get many reaching or blocking fouls. Plus, you're only moving in about a three-foot radius, so it's not as tiring."
San Jose State forward Reggie Owens, who came into the game averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds, was held to 5 rebounds and 12 points. Sophomore transfer Ricky Berry, son of Spartan Coach Bill Berry, had 16 points and 2 rebounds before fouling out with 14 seconds to play.
Irvine held a 33-27 halftime lead, but the Spartans made several runs in the second half. George Puou gave San Jose State it's first lead of the second half with a bank shot with 10:19 to play. UCI regained the lead, 48-47, on a turnaround jumper in the lane by senior forward Tod Murphy, then extended it to 51-47 with 9:22 to go when Rogers hit a three-pointer.
Over the next four minutes, the Anteaters got a driving basket by Rogers, a 15-foot jumper from Hess, a jumper in the lane and another three-pointer from Rogers and--the capper--a three-point shot from reserve forward Rick Ciaccio, his only points of the game. Ciaccio's shot gave UCI a 63-56 lead with 5:35 to play.
San Jose State closed the gap to 68-65 on two free throws by Ontario Johnson with 49 seconds to play but could get no closer.
The 67 points are the fewest UCI has allowed this season. The Anteaters shot 56.3% from the field (27 of 48), including 61.9% in the second half. They had four players score in double figures.
All of this on a night one could logically have assumed would turn out quite differently. But then, the players insist that this is a different team than the one that showed up in its last appearence in Crawford Hall, a 69-63 loss to Oral Roberts.
"The difference is that everybody's got their heads into it," Rogers said. "We're not just out there fooling around. It's a totally different atmosphere."