IRVINE — Just when you thought UC Irvine might be hitting bottom again, Jeff Herdman hit bottom first.
The bottom of the net.
Blown out by 30 points Wednesday against Stanford, Irvine regrouped, revamped its press and dealt California a 98-88 defeat Saturday in front of a season-high crowd of 3,126 in the Bren Center.
Herdman took nine shots, and made eight of them, including seven from three-point range and finished with 23 points.
"I just felt good," Herdman said. "Everyone on the team felt good tonight."
After trailing since the early minutes of the game, Cal tied the score at 88 on a three-pointer by Ryan Drew with 2:21 left.
But the comeback stopped dead in its tracks. Herdman stole the ball on Cal's next possession, and Gerald McDonald came away with a loose ball on the next one. Cal missed every shot the rest of the way. Irvine made enough free throws, and Herdman, for good measure, knocked down a final three.
"We played really well," Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said. "We're glad to beat . . . We're glad to beat anybody ."
Herdman was the star, or one of them. Most important, though, a style might have been born.
Even Irvine's coaches have described this team as "confused" recently, but against Cal, its purpose and plan seemed decisive.
Mulligan backed off the gambling presses, one of which is known as the suicide press, and went to what looked like token zone pressure.
There were no barrages of easy layups for Cal. Mulligan, in fact, couldn't remember one. And in a few, critical moments, Irvine forced turnovers.
Irvine (4-6) scored 98 points, into that upper range Mulligan aims for. But the Anteaters took only 58 shots, shooting 53% from the field, and 57% from three-point range, making 13 of 23.
It wasn't all Herdman. Dylan Rigdon added 21 points, 13 of them from the free-throw line, which he reached 14 times, mostly by driving the lane and drawing the foul.
Ricky Butler helped open up things inside by scoring 18 points, most of them one-on-one against Brian Hendrick, who led Cal with 21 points.
Ryan Drew added 19 for the Golden Bears (3-3) whose other losses were to Houston by 17 points and to Purdue by one point.
The Anteaters led, 45-37, at the half, the first time this season they have had a halftime lead. In two of their three victories, they had been behind at halftime, and the score was tied in the other game they won.
"At halftime, we discussed the fact that nobody is gonna say to you, 'Nice half,' " Mulligan said.
After initially trailing 4-0, Irvine took advantage of a 6:09 scoring drought by Cal to build a 15-4 lead.
Cal, showing the three-point shot that has helped improve the team, came back quickly, scoring four three-pointers in a row--three of them by Drew.
Cal got to within two, with Irvine's Jeff Von Lutzow doing the work of holding off the the run by scoring seven points in a row himself.
Then, just as Cal threatened to erase Irvine's lead, the press that had been so ineffective began to work. Ricky Butler intercepted a pass and took the ball in for a dunk, stretching Irvine's lead to eight points.
Then Irvine started to hit three-pointers. Cornelius Banks made two, and Gabe Higa and Gerald McDonald each added one. After a 12-5 run, Irvine led, 43-30.
Cal pulled back to trail by only eight at halftime, and quickly cut the lead to two at the outset of the second half, scoring nine of the first 12 points.
Once again, Irvine held off the rally.
Billy Dreher drove the length of the court for a layup that made it 55-54 with less than five minutes gone in the second half.
Then came another of the Herdman three-pointers. Dreher countered with a high-arching shot from the lane, but Herdman struck another three. His basket off an offensive rebound made it 63-56.
Buoyed by Drew's threes and Sean Harrell's play off the bench, Cal came back once more, tying the score, 88-88, before Irvine's final rebuff.
"I thought they played a fine game," Cal Coach Lou Campanelli said. "I'm very disappointed in the way we're playing. We're not playing with any enthusiasm or emotion. . . . We've got a long way to go. I'm very concerned about this team."
Mulligan was a lot more concerned about his own before Saturday.
"Cal's a good team," he said. "Because of one game, we're not better than they are. We were tonight."