HOUSTON — UC Irvine kept probing Houston on Monday, pushing and running and trying to see if another of this city's teams would cough up a game.
The Oilers blew a 32-point lead to Buffalo on Sunday afternoon. Sunday night, the Rockets had a seven-point lead over Portland with one minute left--then lost in overtime.
The Cougars beat Irvine, 86-78, before 2,770 at Hofheinz Pavilion, but not before seeing leads of 15 points during the first half and 12 during the second whittled down.
Irvine overtook Houston with 3:44 to play, taking a one-point lead when a wide-open Keith Stewart made a three-pointer from the top of the key after Jeff Von Lutzow faked a shot and passed back out to him.
But Irvine (2-6) scored only five points the rest of the way, and Houston spent most of its time at the line because of Irvine fouls that were not intention- al.
The Anteaters turned the ball over on their next possession when Lloyd Mumford was called for traveling as he drove into a crowd in the lane before passing back out to Von Lutzow.
Then Stewart, who made two of his four three-pointers during the comeback and finished with 16 points, missed three-point attempts on the next two possessions.
Von Lutzow's three-point shot from the baseline after a steal was sandwiched between charging calls against LaDay Smith and Stewart, and Houston's lead grew to seven with 34 seconds to play.
The Cougars (6-2), who made eight consecutive free throws, and with the help of a 16-foot jumper by Anthony Goldwire and a three-pointer by David Diaz, held an 85-76 lead with 25 seconds to play.
Von Lutzow, who had averaged only eight points in Irvine's losses to Nevada Las Vegas, Georgetown and Tulane, had 17 points by halftime. He finished with four three-pointers, 23 points and 11 rebounds. He now has 1,004 points for Irvine.
Diaz scored 28 points, including four three-point baskets. Goldwire had 19 and center Charles Outlaw added 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Dee Boyer had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Irvine and Mumford had 11 points and 10 assists.