Utah State's Greg Grant brought his smooth, left-handed jump shot to Crawford Hall Saturday night. Grant came into the Aggies' game against UC Irvine averaging 24.7 points per game, on a pace to become the career scoring leader in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.
Grant finished with 29 points, but most of those came long after UCI's Tod Murphy and Johnny Rogers had found things to their liking against an Aggie team that played as if it was more concerned with scoring points then preventing them.
Murphy and Rogers, UCI's version of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, combined to make 21 of 29 shots from the field and score 50 points to lead the Anteaters to a 96-82 PCAA victory in front of 1,243 spectators in Crawford Hall.
Irvine's record improves to 2-0 in conference play, 6-5 overall. Utah State has five straight losses and is 0-2, 4-7.
Murphy was 9 of 9 from the field in the first half, leading UCI to a 53-35, halftime lead. He finished the game 13 of 16 with 29 points and a team-high 9 rebounds. Nearly all of Murphy's points came from close range.
Rogers continued his strong outside shooting and finished with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. After a slow start in nonconference play, it's clear the 6-foot 10-inch redhead, who one opposing fan referred to as "Richie Cunningham," is in the midst of some happy days.
And what of Grant, who had 36 points in Utah State's 100-94, double-overtime loss to Nevada Las Vegas Thursday night? The 6-7 senior was 13 of 21 from the floor and 3 of 8 from the free-throw line.
But UCI Coach Bill Mulligan wasn't exactly displeased over Grant's numbers.
"Grant's going to score against anybody," he said. "Grant's a big-time player. But so are Murphy and Rogers."
Murphy, coming off perhaps his worst game of the season Thursday against San Jose State, made it look easy against the Aggies. The Anteaters got him the ball inside in their halfcourt offense, and he put it in. That simple? Just about.
"It was fun," Murphy said. "It was definitely a change of pace from San Jose State, when I couldn't get the ball.
"They like to shoot the ball. They don't pass the ball much. That's the type of game we like."
Utah State entered the game allowing an average of 88.9 points per game. In two PCAA games, it has allowed 196 points.
"You can just run the break on them all day," Anteater guard Joe Buchanan said. "They're not a pressure defense team. It was easy to expose the inside game against them."
Buchanan wasn't expected to play against the Aggies. He missed the Spartan game with a bruise over his left knee, but practiced Friday. He made his first appearence against Utah State at the 15:29 mark of the first half, with his leg heavily padded and wrapped. Buchanan finished with eight points, four rebounds and a team-high seven assists. Troy Carmon contributed 12 points and 9 rebounds for the Anteaters.
Mulligan even had an opportunity to clear his bench in the final two minutes, and that provided one of the more exciting moments of the second half. Sandy Caldwell, a 6-10 freshman from Melbourne, Australia, threw up an off-balance, bank-hook shot as time expired and darned if it didn't go in. The points were Caldwell's first of the season. And they delighted the UCI regulars, who stormed the court to congratulate their mate.
"That was an Australian hook shot," Buchanan said.
It seemed the Anteaters could do little wrong against the Aggies, particularly in the first half.
UCI was 23 of 32 from the field at halftime (71.9%) and had built a 18-point lead. Utah State pulled to within 12 midway through the second half but couldn't get closer. Murphy didn't miss a shot from the field until the 14:37 mark of the second half.
Grant's three-point play gave Utah State a 19-18 lead with 11:54 left in the first half, but the Aggies were virtually defenseless from that point.
Murphy and Rogers teamed to score UCI's next 10 points, leading a 27-10 scoring run that gave the Anteaters a 45-29 lead.
Mulligan said he thought the Anteaters were sloppy in stretches of the second half, but was generally pleased.
"What we've really done is played intense," he said. "We've played intense and we've shot well."
But UCI is in for a drastic change of pace in its next game. The Anteaters travel to Fresno State next Thursday. The Red Wave will be out in force, and Bulldog Coach Boyd Grant will be out to slow things down considerably.
"I think, with the team we've got, we can adjust to something like that," Murphy said.