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Anteaters Start Flat, but Win It

Basketball: UC Irvine players shoot only 35% in first half, but reserves get things going in the second for an 85-75 victory over Southern Utah.


IRVINE — UC Irvine officials, seeing a week-long gap in their Big West Conference schedule, signed up Southern Utah to fill the void.

"This is not the time of year you want to go a week without playing," Coach Rod Baker said.

Maybe, but the Anteaters went about 20 minutes without playing Tuesday night before waking from their sleepwalk and scratching out an 85-75 nonconference victory in front of 1,497 in the Bren Center.

Irvine's leading scorer, sophomore forward Kevin Simmons, set the tone for the evening by missing his first 12 shots. He finally scored on a layup 6 1/2 minutes into the second half and finished one for 14 from the floor with 12 points.

The Anteaters (11-7) shot only 35% from the floor during a first-half performance that could only charitably be called lackluster. Baker, who said he was "angry from the very beginning," had a bad feeling before the game started.

"When they came in from warm-ups, only a couple of guys were sweating," Baker said. "I knew [Southern Utah] was going to play hard. I knew they weren't concerned about the [importance] of the game."

Irvine's last three games have been battles for first place in the Big West. This one offered no such motivation and the Anteaters truly sank to the occasion. Thirteen minutes into the first half, the Thunderbirds (11-10) led by three points.

Irvine pulled out to a five-point halftime lead, extended it to 13 midway through the second half, but let it slip to three with 3 minutes 52 seconds remaining. Irvine forward Shaun Battle stepped up to score nine points in the final 3 1/2 minutes to ensure the victory.

"If you're going to be a good team, you have to play hard every night," said point guard Raimonds Miglinieks, who had 11 assists. "We came out very flat, especially on defense, and that affected our offense.

"Still, we scored 85 points. If we play like we should have, we would have scored more than 100 and the game would have been over at halftime.

"I'm happy the way we came back in the second half, though. It was ugly, but it still was a win."

In the quest for positives, Irvine fans could point to the performance of resurgent guard Brian Keefe, who had a game-high 24 points, and the play of reserves Paul Foster and Danny Fernandez. Foster scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds and the seldom-used Fernandez hit a couple of three-pointers when the sagging Irvine offense had almost ground to a halt.

"I knew from the first shot that things just didn't feel right tonight," Simmons said, "but that's what we have a bench for. There might have been a different outcome if I didn't play well and no one else came in and stepped up."

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