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 forgone conclusion. New Mexico State is 9-3 in Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. play, 15-6 overall. Irvine, which had designs on moving into a tie for second, may now 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.
Irvine played well 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 outmatched. The Aggies won with blurs of athleticism. It happened so quickly, the Anteaters didn't know what hit them.
It began with Irvine 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 the Anteaters' 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 Irvine career and enabled him to pass Dave Baker as the leading scorer in UCI 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 of an Aggie steal.
Travis figured heavily in another New Mexico State blitz, one 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 Irvine 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.