LAS CRUCES, N.M. — UC Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan has spent much of this basketball season wishing he had more talented athletes who happened to play basketball than basketball players with limited athletic talent.
Mulligan insists there is a big difference. Monday night may have proved him right.
New Mexico State outran and outjumped the Anteaters and, as a result, outscored them, 98-75, in front of 8,217 spectators in the Pan American Center.
The win snaps New Mexico State's two-game losing streak and re-establishes the Aggies as the second-place team in a conference in which first place seems a foregone conclusion.
New Mexico State is 9-3 in Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. play, 15-6 overall. UCI, which had designs on moving into a tie for second, may be faced with the realization of finishing no higher than third. The Anteaters are 8-5 (12-10 overall), and still have to play front-runner Nevada Las Vegas twice.
UCI played good basketball for parts of Monday night's game. But when New Mexico State turned the game into a contest of who could run the fastest or jump the highest, it was clear the Anteaters were clearly outmatched. The Aggies won with blurs of athleticism. It happened so quickly, the Anteaters didn't know what hit them.
It began with UCI taking a 10-4 lead, and Tod Murphy--the Anteaters' senior forward--moving to the top of Irvine's career scoring list. Murphy scored eight of Irvine's first 10 points. His two free throws at the 16:55 mark of the first half gave him 1,602 points in his four-year UCI career and enabled him to pass Dave Baker as the leading scorer in school history. By halftime, Murphy was 6 of 8 from the field and 11 of 11 from the free-throw line for 23 points.
But there was no cause for the Anteaters to celebrate at halftime. They left the court trailing, 45-44, after leading by 10 points with 3:51 left before the intermission.
New Mexico State guard Kenny Travis, who would finish with a game-high 31 points, led an 18-7 Aggie outburst by hitting two three-point shots and scoring on a layup off a steal.
Travis figured heavily in another New Mexico State blitz which came in the last six minutes of the game and turned a close contest into something of a laugher.
Murphy scored on a jumper from the baseline that pulled UCI to within five with 5:48 to play. From there, New Mexico State was off and running.
The Aggies outscored Irvine, 24-6, after Murphy's shot. Travis scored 12 straight points in the run, the last of which came on a layup and free throw with 3:35 to play, giving New Mexico State an 86-69 lead.
Travis was 11 of 18 from the field, 5 of 5 from the line, had 5 rebounds and came within one point of equaling his season high. New Mexico State Coach Neil McCarthy was moderately impressed.
"His contribution was extremely large tonight," McCarthy said.
And Custer had a little run-in with a few unhappy Indians.
Gilbert Wilburn, who scored a career-high 36 points in New Mexico State's 83-71 win over UCI on Jan. 25, had 20 points in the rematch. Wilburn, a 6-foot 5-inch senior out of Banning High School in Wilmington, hasn't had his mind on basketball lately.
Wilburn's mother, Gladys, had a heart attack last Thursday and was in critical condition in a Carson hospital. Wilburn said her condition had improved Monday, and that she was due to be released from intensive care.
"He's really had a heavy burden to carry the past three games," McCarthy said. "I thought he started looking more like himself tonight."
Murphy finished with a team-high 30 points, shattering a scoring record that had stood since the 1974-75 season. Johnny Rogers had 21 points and led the Anteaters with 7 rebounds.
Little-used forward Elston Jones came off the bench for the Aggies and made the most of his 11 minutes of playing time. Jones was 4 of 4 shooting and had 11 points and 8 rebounds. His efforts inside helped New Mexico State outrebound the Anteaters, 30-12, in the second half.