SAN JOSE — Earlier this season, UC Irvine's basketball team was into playing the perfect guest. The Anteaters were always entertaining, running up triple-digit scores before graciously losing, leaving their hosts and their fans smiling.
But Irvine has done a 180-degree turn in the last couple of weeks and Monday night's 63-55 Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. victory over San Jose State was a case in point. Charitably, the game could be described as a defensive battle, but when you get right down to it, this was anything but pretty.
"So we're playing vomit basketball," Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said. "I may not like it as much, the players may not like it as much, but we're more into winning than having fun."
The Anteaters (12-10 overall and 7-6 in the PCAA) got a big assist from the Spartans (10-12, 5-8), who made just 8 of 24 free throws. Irvine was 25 of 34 from the line.
It was, by any account, a bizarre game. Irvine hasn't scored as few points since a loss to Cal State Fullerton in the 1986 PCAA Tournament. San Jose's Ricky Berry, the conference's leading scorer with a 25-point-per-game average, tied his lowest output of the season with 16. Irvine's Wayne Engelstad, second in the PCAA in scoring with an average of 24, tied his season low with 10.
"We changed our style because we felt that other teams were getting too many spurts," Mulligan said. "We were taking too many quick jumpers, missing them and teams were putting together 8- and 10-point runs.
"It was a very encouraging win because Wayne didn't play that much because of foul trouble and he didn't have a very good game. And it was one of our better efforts defensively."
The Anteaters' pressure man-to-man defense forced San Jose into 12 first-half turnovers and the Spartans' matchup zone kept Irvine from getting the ball inside to Engelstad, who had just two field goal attempts in the first half.
The Anteaters, however, had a 30-21 advantage at halftime.
San Jose steadily cut the lead in the second half and finally tied the game, 48-48, on a three-pointer by Steve Haney with 6:31 remaining in the game. But Kevin Floyd, who scored 17 points, hit an 18-foot jumper on Irvine's next possession and the Anteaters led the rest of the way.
Irvine made 10 of 12 free throws in the final four minutes to seal the win.