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UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : Miracles Aside, Draw Could Lead Anteaters to Big West Final

March 08, 1994|JOHN WEYLER

UC Irvine in the semifinals of the Big West basketball tournament? The team that won only four of 18 regular-season conference games? The group Coach Rod Baker describes as "good players who don't do good things?"

Baker says he is "just dumb enough" to think his team can make it that far and beyond, but he isn't the only Big West coach whose intelligence might be questioned.

"We have a lot of respect for Irvine," said UC Santa Barbara Coach Jerry Pimm, whose Gauchos beat the Anteaters twice by four points, once in overtime. "They play good, aggressive defense. I think anybody can win this tournament, and I think Irvine is one of those anybodys."

Pimm's team plays the Anteaters in the first round of the Big West tournament at 1 p.m. Thursday, so he might be prone to hyperbole. Winning it all would be considered a minor miracle for Irvine. But beating the Gauchos and then second-seeded Utah State Friday in the quarterfinals seems feasible, based on pretty sound reasoning.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 9, 1994 Orange County Edition Sports Part C Page 12 Column 2 Sports Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Irvine athletes--Laura Monson and Todd Coulston run track for UC Irvine. Because of an editing error, a story in Tuesday's Times incorrectly identified their sport.

"I think either Santa Barbara or Irvine will have a good chance of beating Utah State," Long Beach State Coach Seth Greenberg said. "They've both proven they can do it this season."

The Anteaters, who can blame lapses of concentration and offensive droughts for nearly half of their defeats this season, certainly aren't outclassed in matchups with the Gauchos and Aggies.

At Santa Barbara, the Gauchos needed a three-pointer by Clayton Madden with 30 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime. At Irvine, they needed Anteater guard Chris Brown to miss a three-pointer with 30 seconds left to avert a tie.

The Anteaters pulled off a rare upset of Utah State in Logan on Jan. 17 and then lost to the Aggies in the Bren Center in overtime, 79-77.

"We've really struggled against Irvine both times we played them," Utah State Coach Larry Eustachy said. "The game up here was one of only two conference losses we had at home."

Clearly, the Anteaters have the talent to compete with both teams. But which Irvine team will show up? The inspired bunch of blue-and-gold streaks that erased all but two points of a 20-point lead in less than 4 1/2 minutes against the Gauchos last Thursday? Or the one that blew a 12-point lead with nine minutes to go against Utah State?

Baker admits he doesn't have a clue.

"I think we're talented enough (to win the tournament)," Baker said. "And on certain nights, we're as good as anyone around. But I've not yet figured out the mental makeup of this group."

He would like to forget the insights he learned Saturday night during the course of a 91-72 pasting by Long Beach State.

"They kicked us up and down the floor, but the real shame is that it seemed like nobody, well, not enough guys, anyway, seemed to care," he said. "I mean Long Beach played really well, but we could've put up some resistance."


Point breakdown: Baker is faced with a dilemma when deciding who to play at point guard. Senior Lloyd Mumford offers the spectacular. Junior Zuri Williams brings stability.

Mumford and Williams are at opposite ends of the offensive scale. Mumford is always a threat to drive to the hoop and doesn't shy away from shooting outside. Williams seldom does either, although he has been penetrating a bit more recently.

So Baker has to choose between exasperation with Mumford or virtually playing four against five when Irvine has the ball because teams sag so far off Williams.

"We all know that Lloyd is capable of doing both, so he'll get the first option to get it done," Baker said. "But if Lloyd gets tired or isn't getting it done, then Zuri gives us another look."

Mumford started Saturday night against Long Beach State, but was back on the bench in less than 2 1/2 minutes after a wild, spinning layup attempt.

"It wasn't what we talked about," Baker said. "We had made some adjustments for them and on two straight possessions the guy we made the adjustments for was wide open and Lloyd didn't see him."

Mumford has averaged 8.8 points over the last 10 games. In 10 games previous to that, he averaged 17.6.

Williams has scored more than eight points only once this season and is averaging 1.5 points.


Wavering Avie: Forward Jermaine Avie is second on the team in minutes played and he started the first 23 games of the season. But the junior transfer from College of Eastern Utah has been on the bench for the last three tip-offs.

Avie, who has scored in double figures 10 times, has hit that mark only twice in the last 12 games.

"I think he's feeling sorry for himself a little bit," Baker said. "He just needs to go out there and play. He's given us some pretty good minutes lately, but LaDay (Smith, who is starting in place of Avie) is giving us some defense and rebounding."

Anteater Notes

Forward Shaun Battle, who injured his side while diving on the press table Saturday night against Long Beach State, did not practice Monday because of general soreness. . . . Freshman Laura Monson continues to better her personal-best times in the 3,000 meters. She won the event in 9 minutes 53.7 seconds Saturday during a four-way swim meet with USC, Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Irvine's Todd Coulston won the 3,000 in the men's competition. . . . The crew team opened its spring racing season with victories in the men's varsity eights, men's varsity fours and the two women's novice eights races Saturday in the North Lido Channel. . . . The women's basketball team (4-22, 3-15 in conference) will be making its first appearance in the Big West Tournament since 1990. The Anteaters failed to qualify the last three seasons when only the top eight teams advanced. Irvine plays Cal State Fullerton at 8 p.m. tonight.

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