FRESNO — Don't tell UC Irvine's basketball team how easy it is to win in Fresno State's Selland Arena this season. And please don't remind the Anteaters that the once-infamous Red Wave--the Bulldogs' vociferous scarlet-clad crowd--has been reduced to just a ripple.
Fresno State had yet to win a Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. game at home before Saturday night, but the Bulldogs and their faithful were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Irvine, a team that had lost 11 in a row in this facility.
Make it 12.
Irvine, leading by eight points, 56-48, with 8:55 remaining, wilted in the final minutes, and a crowd of 10,159 roared in delight as Fresno State rallied for a 71-67 victory.
The Anteaters (9-7 overall and 4-3 in the PCAA) scored just four points in an eight-minute stretch late in the half, and the Bulldogs (5-11, 2-5) scored 13 points off Irvine turnovers in the second half.
"I've never gotten a win here," Irvine senior guard Mike Hess said. "The crowd is always somewhat of a factor here, but we just made some dumb mistakes down the line. Really, there's no reason for letting this one get away."
Well, maybe a few:
--Irvine, which entered the week as the nation's third-best free-throw shooting team, had another off night at the line, making 14 of 21. The Anteaters made just 23 of 39 Thursday night against University of the Pacific.
--The Anteaters, who led, 34-26, at halftime, made 13 second-half turnovers and gave up 10 second-half layups.
--Fresno State made 9 of 12 free throws in the last five minutes.
--And, finally, from Irvine center Wayne Engelstad, who had a game-high 23 points: "They just wanted it more . . . they played harder than we did."
Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan, who says he "doesn't buy any of that jinx (stuff)," thought Fresno State's ability to get the ball inside and his own team's inability to make key free throws was the difference.
The Bulldogs outscored Irvine, 12-4, during a six-minute stretch late in the second half and the crowd, relatively quiet for most of the game, sensed a victory. Just like the old days.
Junior forward Mike Mitchell, whose numbers (4 of 12 from the field, 4 of 9 from the line, 12 points and 6 rebounds) were not that impressive, seemed to spark his team with a go-for-broke second-half performance.
The Bulldogs had shot less than 40% from the floor six times this season and better than 50% just twice. But they got a number of easy shots Saturday night and finished at 49% against Irvine.
Forward Derrick Barden had a game-high 10 rebounds and led Fresno State in scoring with 16 points, all of which came from close range. Guard Kevin Stevenson had 14 points, mostly on drives to the basket.