GOLETA — Johnny Rogers has made his basketball reputation by scoring points, not by preventing them.
Rogers is often criticized for his defensive play, and claims that criticism is unjustified. Monday night, he got very defensive.
Rogers blocked three UC Santa Barbara shots in the final two minutes as UC Irvine held off UC Santa Barbara, 87-79, in a Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. game at the UCSB Campus Events Center.
The win gives the Anteaters (15-10 overall, 11-5 in the PCCA) a one-game lead over New Mexico State in the race for second place in the conference. It also marks the first time the Anteaters have won three straight games since Rogers and teammate Tod Murphy, who scored 29 points, have been in the lineup.
Irvine has won five of six games and appears to be reaching a peak at a most opportune point in the season. Home games against Nevada Las Vegas and Cal State Fullerton are all that remain before the PCAA Tournament begins March 6.
Much of Irvine's recent success can be attributed to Rogers' shooting. Entering Monday night's game, Rogers had 91 points in his last three outings. But it was Murphy who supplied most of the offense against the Gauchos (11-13, 6-10).
Rogers, who had 17 points, went to the bench after his fourth foul with 6:28 to play. Irvine guard Joe Buchanan followed Rogers by picking up his fourth foul with 5:29 left.
But at the 5:17 mark, Rogers and Buchanan were back in the game.
Said Coach Bill Mulligan: "With five minutes to go, we went to a zone and put them back in. I said, 'My fate's not going to be decided with those guys on the bench."
It turned out to be a good decision. Rogers got a kind roll on a baseline jumper that gave the Anteaters an 81-77 lead with 1:49 to play. The next minute was a serious of swats.
Rogers came out to the free-throw line to block a shot by Gaucho center Scott Fisher with 1:35 left. Twenty seconds later, he rejected Conner Henry's shot, a block Irvine guard Scott Brooks converted into a fast-break layup and an 83-77 Anteater lead. With 47 seconds left, Rogers blocked another shot by Henry, and Brooks again scored at the other end to make it 85-77.
In that brief span, Rogers may have blocked Santa Barbara from entering the PCAA Tournament. The Gauchos are in danger of elimination from the postseason tournament. Eight of the conference's 10 teams qualify. The Gauchos are in ninth place.