IRVINE — It's always something with these UC Irvine Anteaters.
Irvine hit more dubious lows in a 73-66 loss to UC Santa Barbara before 2,368 Saturday afternoon at the Bren Center.
The Anteaters' performance bordered on the sublime, when with two freshmen and two sophomores on the floor, Irvine cut a 14-point deficit to four late in the game. But it was also ridiculous when Elgin Rogers moved around a pick in the first half and got bonked in the head by a pass from teammate Ricky Butler.
Indeed, Saturday's loss--Irvine's 10th consecutive setback, one short of the school record set in 1980--was a microcosm of the Anteaters' 1989-90 season. Seemingly everything that could go wrong did.
"There's only one consistent team in the league--us," Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said.
The day started badly for Irvine (2-15 overall, 0-8 in the Big West Conference) and got gradually worse before the Anteaters staged a late but futile rally.
Butler, a junior center who has started all 16 games and has been the Anteaters' most consistent scorer, was late to a team meeting Saturday morning and was held out of the starting lineup.
That forced Mulligan to trot out starting lineup No. 13. Once Butler entered the game, 4:18 had been played and Irvine trailed, 11-6.
And it only got more difficult for Butler. Averaging 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, Butler had two points and three rebounds in 18 minutes. Worse, five of his seven shots were blocked.
As Butler struggled against the inside defensive pressure from Santa Barbara's Eric McArthur and Gary Gray, the Gauchos' Carrick DeHart broke out of a shooting slump to become the school's career scoring leader.
DeHart, a senior guard who came into the game mired in a seven-for-39 shooting slump, had a game-high 25 points, making eight of 13 from the field.
"Irvine was fighting and scratching for everything they could get," said DeHart, whose 1,446 career points broke the mark of 1,434 set by Doug Rex (1968-71). "I had to be more mentally in tune today."
By halftime, DeHart had 16 points, most on long-range shots, and Santa Barbara led, 34-24.
"I talked to DeHart after the game," said Mulligan, who recruited DeHart when the Santa Monica High School guard was All-Southern Section. "I told him, 'You get one basket a game, and you kill us.'
"At least McArthur didn't destroy us. We thought he'd kill us."
McArthur finished with six points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. Instead, it was Gray who dominated the inside. He had 17 points, including a key three-point play (a layup and free throw) with 2:23 left after Irvine cut a 14-point Gaucho lead to 58-54.
Paul Johnson added 13 for Santa Barbara (11-4, 5-2).
"It's the same old thing," said guard Rod Palmer, who had 16 points to lead Irvine. "It's the lapses we have. . . . I don't know how to explain it. We keep making turnovers. That hurt us the whole game."
Irvine had 19 turnovers, 13 in the first half, which explained the Anteaters' 10-point deficit.
Playing a tough man-to-man defense, the Gauchos extended their lead to 14 points twice in the second half.
Santa Barbara led, 56-42, with 7:02 left when Mulligan found an effective lineup in sophomores Rogers and Don May, senior Palmer and freshmen Craig Marshall and Dylan Rigdon.
The Anteaters trimmed the lead to 58-54 on Marshall's short jumper with 3:13 left.
On Santa Barbara's next possession, Irvine stripped the ball from McArthur. It flew to a leaping Rogers, who crashed into Palmer, fell to the floor and was called for traveling.
It proved to be the break Santa Barbara needed.
The Gauchos inbounded to an open Gray, who scored, was fouled by Rogers and made the free throw for a 61-54 lead.
Santa Barbara made 12 of 14 free throws in the final 1:58 to seal another loss for Irvine.
Coach Bill Mulligan started Jeff Herdman (eight points) and Jeff Von Lutzow (nine) at forward, Don May (five) at center and Justin Anderson (eight) and Rod Palmer (16) at guard. . . . Elgin Rogers had nine points in 17 minutes. . . . Irvine outshot UC Santa Barbara, 42.6% to 42.3%.