Bill Mulligan's greatest fear wasn't realized Thursday night. There were a few minor anxieties, maybe, but the letdown he feared never materialized.
Mulligan's UC Irvine team had a few days of back-patting after last Saturday's 99-92 upset of Nevada Las Vegas. But the Anteaters ended the celebration in time to score a 95-80 victory over last-place Cal State Long Beach Thursday night in a Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. game at Long Beach.
Senior forward Johnny Rogers had 29 points and 11 rebounds as Irvine (14-10 overall, 10-5 in the PCAA) took sole possession of second place. The Anteaters moved past New Mexico State, which lost at Las Vegas.
Long Beach (6-19, 2-12) might have been the ideal opponent for Irvine's return to earth. The Anteaters were able to get away with 23 turnovers.
Of course, good shooting didn't hurt. Rogers was 7 of 9 from the floor in the first half, leading UCI to a 50-37 halftime lead. The Anteaters shot 62.1% in the half, 53.3% in the game.
"One thing about shooting," Long Beach Coach Ron Palmer said. "It can solve a lot of problems. If they can shoot like that the rest of the way, they're going to be tough for anyone to handle."
Rogers has scored 91 points in his last three games, most from long range. He scored 41 against UNLV.
"I've never seen anything like it at Irvine," Rogers said. "People I don't even know are coming up to me and congratulating me. It sort of reminds me of high school. It's a good feeling."
Mulligan's only feeling before Thursday night's game was a sinking one. And now that it's over?
"Now, I'm starting to worry about Santa Barbara (Irvine's opponent next Monday night)," he said. "I don't want to be like (Jerry) Tarkanian. I want to be an optimist. I want to be happy."
Tod Murphy scored 14 points for the Anteaters despite early foul trouble. Guard Scott Brooks had 14, and Joe Buchanan had a season-high 13. Those were reasons enough for Mulligan to be happy.
Morlon Wiley returned to the 49ers' starting lineup and scored 22 points. Sophomore center DeAnthony Langston added 15.