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Nevada Puts Foot Down on UC Irvine : College basketball: Anteaters eliminated by Wolf Pack, 88-69, in the Big West tournament semifinals.


LAS VEGAS — UC Irvine must have left the fairy dust at the hotel. The magic that made the Anteaters the toast of the Big West tournament again this year was definitely missing Saturday night.

The Anteaters misfired, sputtered and just plain came up empty against Nevada, 88-69, in the semifinals in front of 4,450 in the Thomas & Mack Center.

It was as if the Anteaters, who were 5-1 in March under Coach Rod Baker, were back in the regular season when they failed to live up to expectations on a regular basis. The coach that would carry them into a second consecutive tournament championship game had turned into a pumpkin long before midnight.

"Nevada played at a totally different level than we did tonight," Baker said. "Some of that I will attribute to how hard we had to play last night to get to tonight."

Irvine upset top-seeded Utah State on Friday, but the Anteaters' best players--freshman of the year Kevin Simmons and point guard Raimonds Miglinieks--had off nights, which doomed their chances of returning to the final.

"We all look at Kevin Simmons and see a big, strong kid," Baker said. "He wasn't a factor in the second half, but it's understandable when you consider the level he's had to play the last couple of days to get us here. He gave all he had.

"Whether we lost by two, or 20, or 200 doesn't matter. I'm saddest because we got every bit we could get from our guys and it wasn't enough."

How bad was it for Irvine? Baker couldn't even get a technical foul, despite a screaming, arm-waving, foot-stomping tantrum less than a yard from official Dick Cartmell late in the first half. He finally got his wish early in the second half, but it wasn't enough to inspire the Anteaters (13-16) to overcome what had become a 20-point Nevada lead.

The Wolf Pack (18-10) had 54 points by the time Irvine finally broke into the 30s.

"They came out really strong, playing hard and playing together," Simmons said. "And we came out flat. I don't know if I was fatigued but I missed a lot of shots I normally make."

Nevada (18-10) went on a 20-4 run midway through the first half and Irvine never recovered. It was the Wolf Pack's third relatively easy victory over the Anteaters this season. They averaged 93 points a game against Irvine this year.

"They were the only team in the conference that we didn't even have a decent half against," Baker said. "They're just better and they had no slippage against us."

The Wolf Pack outrebounded Irvine 51-37 and shot 49% from the floor compared to the Anteaters' 35%. They had six players score in double figures, led by guard Brian Green, who scored 17. Faron Hand had 15 points and Jimmy Moore had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Chris Brown, who made 24 three-pointers during Irvine's run to the tournament final last year and was co-Most Valuable Player of the tournament, moved off his normal spot on the end of the bench midway through the second half. Brown, the nation's leading three-point shooter last season, hadn't played a minute in the last three games, but he made five threes.

Unfortunately for the Anteaters, they were more in need of fours or fives at that point.

"It's very hard to come back in a game like that," Miglinieks said. "They were getting offensive rebounds, hitting big three-pointers and everything just seemed to go their way all night."

Miglinieks, the Anteaters' first Big West first-team selection in seven years and No. 3 in the nation in assists with an 8.4 average, had 14 points and nine assists, but he also had seven turnovers. Simmons had eight points and five rebounds.

"It was just one of those days," Miglinieks said. "We all tried hard, but it wasn't enough this time."

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