STOCKTON — As far as UC Irvine is concerned, the only good thing about Fresno is that it's a reasonably short bus ride from the University of the Pacific. What better team to play after one of your worst games of the season than one you've beaten 11 straight times?
The Anteaters made it an even dozen Saturday night with an 83-75 win over UOP in front of an estimated 3,500 spectators in Spanos Center.
Johnny Rogers had a game-high 26 points--including 18 in the second half--and 13 rebounds, and Tod Murphy rebounded from a nightmarish experience Thursday night against Fresno State with 21 points as the Anteaters improved their record to 3-1 in Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. play and 7-6 overall. Pacific is 1-3, 8-7.
UCI Coach Bill Mulligan watched with frustration as his team shot 25.9% from the field in Thursday night's 53-48 loss to Fresno State. It was the worst shooting night for the Anteaters since Mulligan became their coach. And it was the latest in a series of 10 straight defeats in Fresno's Selland Arena.
"I think we were a little embarrassed the other night," Mulligan said.
So, it was off to Stockton, where both the noise level and the defense is considerably softer. The result was the Anteaters' first win on an opponent's court since an 87-80 win at Nebraska on Dec. 2.
"It was really necessary for us to win here," UCI guard Joe Buchanan said. "To be a good team, you have to prove you can win on the road. And we haven't beaten anybody on the road since Nebraska."
The win was particularly satisfying for Murphy and teammate Scott Brooks.
Murphy was coming off his least productive game since a two-point performance against Nevada Las Vegas during his freshman season. Against Fresno, he was 0 for 6 from the field and had only 4 points before fouling out in the final minutes.
Saturday night, Murphy was 7 of 11 shooting and had a team-high 5 assists.
"We had to get at least one win on this trip," Murphy said. "We were hoping for two, but Selland Arena took care of that."
There was no mob of unfriendly Red Wavers awaiting the Anteaters in Stockton. Instead, there was a section of fans at the game only to applaud the performance of Brooks, who prepped at East Union High School in nearby Manteca and played last season down the road at San Joaquin Delta College.
Said Buchanan, who joined Brooks in the starting lineup for the first time in five games: "The crowd was nonexistent, really. There were more fans yelling for Scott than anyone else."
Brooks finished with 10 points against the team that wouldn't offer him a scholarship after last season at Delta. The Tigers were willing to let Brooks play as a walk-on, with the possibility of offering him a scholarship after one season. He passed, opting instead to accept Mulligan's scholarship offer at Irvine.
"If we'd have lost, I would have had tough time coming home this summer," Brooks said.
Mulligan was nearly ecstatic at the fact that Brooks didn't try to go out of his way to impress the Stocktonians.
"He didn't come in and try to be the hometown hero," he said. "He played within the system. I really admire him for that."
Said Brooks: "There was a temptation to do too much, but Coach told me before the game to not try to be a Superman."
In the first half, there were no signs of the miserable shooting the Anteaters experienced in Fresno. Murphy was 5 of 7 from the field, and Troy Carmon came off the bench to score 11 points to help the Anteaters take a 43-35 halftime lead.
Rogers hit 8 of 9 shot attempts in the second half to hold off a mild Pacific comeback. His 18 points in the second half included a string of 8 straight midway through the half, the last of which gave UCI a 69-57 lead with 6:52 to play.
Senior forward Rich Anema led Pacific with 21 points. Brent Counts, son of former Laker center Mel, had 16, and James Ray Richardson had 14, all in the second half.
UCI outrebounded the Tigers, 45-39, and held them to 45.9% shooting. It was the ninth straight game in which Pacific has shot less than 50% from the floor.
UCI was an even 50% (31 of 62) shooting, quite an improvement from the disastrous night in Fresno.
But then, this is a good place for the Anteaters to come to get better.