IOWA CITY — Few college basketball teams rely as heavily on outside shooting as UC Irvine. The Anteaters lack the quickness to dominate defensively and the height to score from inside. Their goal on the fast break is to pull up for an open three-pointer.
"When we shoot well, we look really good," Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said. "When we shoot bad, we look terrible."
Mulligan said he was "sick" about his team's shooting Friday night. But when it came down to living or dying at the free-throw line, Irvine walked away with a clean bill of health and a spot in the championship game of the Amana-Hawkeye tournament.
Irvine made 12 of 13 free throws in the last 6 1/2 minutes and rallied from an eight-point second-half deficit to beat Jacksonville, 79-76, before a crowd of 15,500 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Anteaters, who missed just two free throws (19 of 21) all night, face sixth-ranked Iowa tonight for the tournament title.
Iowa jumped to early leads of 16-1, 28-7 and 42-10 en route to a 91-61 rout of Navy in its first-round game. Eleven Iowa players scored, led by Bill Jones (16 points), B.J. Armstrong (15) and Jeff Moe (15). Center Darren Morningstar led Navy with 20 points.
Iowa beat Irvine, 105-103, last December in the championship game of the Anteater tournament at Long Beach Arena.
"Don't get me wrong; I'll take an ugly win over a great-looking loss any day," Mulligan said, "but we played tonight like we just started playing together this week. We're really a good-shooting team, I'm sure of that, but we sure didn't show it.
"And we had no defensive intensity. We were just lethargic. I'm disgusted with the way we played."
Sometimes, you can't tell the winners from the losers without a box score. Mulligan was "disgusted," and Jacksonville Coach Rich Haddad was "proud of our effort."
Mulligan noted that the Dolphins "were quicker than us . . . of course, everybody we play is quicker than us." Jacksonville guard Dee Brown drove home that point. He went over and around the Irvine defense for 22 points, making 11 of 16 field-goal attempts.
But the Dolphins, who outrebounded Irvine, 47-34, and made nine more field goals, couldn't overcome the difference at the lines . . . free-throw and three-point, that is. Irvine made 15 more free throws and 6 more three-pointers.
One thing is certain: It was not a pretty game. Irvine (3-1) went cold in the second half. The Anteaters led, 42-40, at halftime and then scored just six points in the first eight minutes of the second half as the Dolphins (1-2) took a 56-48 lead.
That's when Irvine's only bona fide front-line players--senior Wayne Engelstad and 6-foot 9-inch center Ed Johansen, a junior transfer from Creighton--made an impact.
Engelstad, who keeps sinking deeper into the coach's doghouse and had his captain's status revoked by Mulligan before the game, made 8 of 9 free throws and three jumpers in the final 11 minutes. He finished with a team-high 24 points, including 10 of 11 free throws, and 8 rebounds.
"Wayne thought the offense was all his (late in the first half), and that's why he was sitting for almost eight minutes," Mulligan said. "He wouldn't have played at all if we'd gotten ahead."