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UC Irvine Pulls Off Upset of No. 16 Las Vegas, 99-98

February 05, 1989|JOHN WEYLER | Times Staff Writer

You've heard about teams that can't win the big ones. How about a team that can only win the big ones?

UC Irvine has struggled this season, losing to a lot of teams it figured to beat, but the Anteaters have a knack for pulling off the big upset. They beat heavily favored UCLA Dec. 28 and Saturday night they got their biggest victory of the season, beating 16th-ranked Nevada Las Vegas, 99-98, in front of a sellout crowd of 5,000 in the Bren Center.

"I watched the tape of their game against Oklahoma and didn't think we had a chance in a million of beating them," Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said. "This was an incredible win for us."

UC Irvine (8-11 overall, 5-5 in the Big West) doesn't have the depth of talent it takes to beat the Rebels (14-5, 9-1) in a basketball game.

A free-throw shooting contest is a different story, however.

Irvine made 27 of 48 field goals--11 fewer field goals than Las Vegas--but the Anteaters made 36 of 43 free throws. The Rebels made only 13 of 21 free throws.

Irvine went to the line a lot, and a lot of Rebels went to the bench in the process. By the time the 2 1/2-hour marathon ended, three of Las Vegas' top four scorers and three of its top four rebounders had fouled out.

David Butler, a 6-foot 10-inch center, went first, with 18:17 to play. Forward George Ackles, also 6-10, went two minutes later. Stacey Augmon, who scored 29 points, and guard Greg Anthony, who had 32, both fouled out in the final 3 1/2 minutes.

It was the first time in 5 years that the Rebels have lost 2 straight games. They lost to Oklahoma a week ago.

Irvine shot 76% from the field in the second half, including 8 of 11 three-pointers. Sophomore forward Jeff Herdman was 5 of 7 from three-point range and finished with 24 points. Sophomore forward Ricky Butler led the Anteaters with 25 points, making 17 of 19 free throws. And senior center Mike Doktorczyk had 20 points, including 10 of 14 free throws.

"We've never played a team that shot like that," UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "They made every free throw and almost every three-pointer. They made some very tough shots. You have to give them credit."

As it was, the Rebels almost rallied to victory. Butler made two free throws to put the Anteaters ahead, 96-89, with 1:21 left. But Anthony scored on a layup, an 8-foot bank shot and a three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to pull the Rebels to within 98-96.

Herdman was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws with 12 seconds left to give Irvine a 3-point advantage. Anderson Hunt brought the ball upcourt, found an opening and drove for an uncontested layup. With 4 seconds remaining, Irvine didn't even need to inbound the ball. And the Rebels didn't have any timeouts left.

"It's amazing, absolutely amazing," Tarkanian said. "I don't know what Anderson was thinking about."

It hasn't been a good week for the Rebels. Butler, the Rebels' leading scorer and starting center, and Moses Scurry, the sixth-leading scorer and No. 3 rebounder, did not attend two practices this week. Tarkanian, saying it was just a "miscommunication problem," took Butler out of the starting lineup and didn't let sixth-man Scurry off the bench until late in the second half.

The first half was a foul-ridden, hour-long, battle of free throws. This is not the kind of game that the Rebels prefer, and the Anteaters trailed by just 48-43 at halftime.

"Coach Mulligan told us to take the ball at those guys," Herdman said. "We wanted to foul out as many as possible. He told us we weren't playing very well at all and we were only down by 5 so if we had a good second half, we could win it."

And they did. It was the sixth time a Bill Mulligan-coached Irvine team had beaten Las Vegas.

"They went to their matchup zone in the second half, trying to protect all those guys, and that helped us," Mulligan said. "Then when Augmon fouled out, that really helped us."

Four Rebels--Butler, Ackles, Augmon and Rossum--had 3 fouls in the first half.

Las Vegas gained a 24-10 lead with 11:49 left, but Irvine closed to within 27-26 on two free throws by Rob Doktorczyk. The Anteaters made 20 of 23 first-half free throws. The Rebels made only 7 of 13.

The second half picked up where the first left off for Las Vegas. Butler got his fourth foul 42 seconds into the half. Rossum got No. 4 seven seconds later. Then Butler fouled out.

Tarkanian wasn't too happy to lose one 6-10 post player, but when Ackles got his fourth foul with 16:53 left and then fouled out 16 seconds later, he rubbed his scalp and went straight for his faithful towel for a stress-relieving chomp.

It didn't help.

"This is not a big win for us. We're used to beating Vegas," Mulligan said, smiling, and then, lest anyone misinterpret, he added, "That's tongue in cheek."

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