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UCI Reverts to Form in Loss : Men's basketball: Anteaters go cold, then furious rally falls short, and UC Santa Barbara wins, 81-77.


IRVINE — UC Irvine managed to maintain the momentum from Saturday's upset of New Mexico State for much of Thursday night's game against UC Santa Barbara. But the few minutes the Anteaters let down proved disastrous.

The Anteaters' pressure defense forced the Gauchos into 11 first-half turnovers and they led by nine at halftime. But Irvine, reverting to its midseason propensity for going scoreless for extended periods, was outscored 16-0 in the first five minutes of the second half and lost, 81-77, in front of 2,259 at the Bren Center.

Irvine (7-18, 4-13 in the Big West) trailed by as many as 20 points (66-46) with 5:48 remaining, but summoned a furious rally down the stretch and Chris Brown came inches from tying the score when his three-point attempt rattled off the rim with 30.2 seconds left.

"We let another one slip away," Brown said. "I guess maybe we were a little relaxed. We didn't come out in the second half like we did at the beginning of the game. Then we really went strong in the last four or five minutes, but it was a little bit too late."

Brown, the nation's most prolific three-point shooter, made seven of 18 and finished with 22 points. But the Anteaters' outside game could not overcome the Gauchos' inside game. Center Doug Muse made seven of nine shots and nine of 11 free throws for 23 points and Santa Barbara (13-15, 9-8) shot 59% from the floor.

The Gauchos' front-line players were 16 of 23 from the field and helped Santa Barbara to a 37-29 rebounding advantage.

"We had a great deal of success with our press after we made baskets in the first half," Irvine Coach Rod Baker said. "But you need to make shots to get into the pressure and at the beginning of the second half we didn't make many shots."

Santa Barbara appeared on its way to rout after outscoring Irvine, 41-12, but the Anteaters scrambled back. Still, the Gauchos appeared to have a comfortable 14-point bulge with 2:51 left to play.

Mark Odsather single-handedly brought the crowd and the Anteater bench back into the game, however, scoring eight points in a seven-second span with a pair of three-pointers and two free throws. Brown followed a Shaun Battle dunk with a 25-foot three-pointer and then another over two defenders and Irvine trailed by only two (76-74) with 1:07 left.

Phillip Turner had a chance to seal the victory for Santa Barbara but missed a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left and then Brown's 18th three-point attempt was a little too strong and bounced off the hoop.

The Anteaters are living and dying on the shooting fortunes of Brown these days and the junior guard is a marked man. The Anteaters believe he is being manhandled away from the ball and Brown drew is third foul near the end of the second half when he lashed out in retaliation.

"Brown is our best outside shooter," Baker said. "I have no idea how many shots he took tonight or how many he made. But we're not only living and dying on Brownie's ability to shoot the ball, but on our ability to get into the press.

"Our offense hurt us a lot more than our defense. When we don't make our shots, we can't get into our pressure. And remember, they weren't twiddling their thumbs at halftime. They made some adjustments and got back into it."

The Anteaters awoke from their sleepwalk too late to recover, but early enough to put a scare into the Gauchos.

"When I see Phillip (Turner) miss two free throws, when I see our best free-throw shooter miss two, I started thinking maybe the basketball genie wasn't on our side tonight," Muse said.

Santa Barbara didn't need a magic lamp, however, thanks to Muse. The junior center made four free throws in a row in the final 17 seconds.

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