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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1996-97

Irvine Comeback Comes Up Short

November 23, 1996|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — There were moments Friday night when UC Irvine's basketball team was as bad as expected, maybe worse. There were moments when the Anteaters couldn't make a pass, take a dribble or even inbound the ball.

There were all those problems and, still, Irvine could have won. San Diego State came away with a 100-88 victory in front of 1,598 at the San Diego Sports Arena, but the Aztecs had to sweat it out a bit longer than expected.

It wasn't until Jacobi Thompson converted a turnover into a dunk with 1 minute 20 seconds left that the Aztecs (1-0) could relax. By then, the Anteaters had more than recovered their self-respect after a disastrous start that left them 17 points behind in the first seven minutes.

"We came out of here knowing we could have beat these people," said freshman forward Brian Johnson, who scored 19 points. "We realized we could play with these people. We were just a little timid at first."

That much was evident.

Irvine turned the ball over on their first four possessions and had 12 turnovers in the first seven minutes. As a result, the Aztecs jumped to a 23-6 lead.

It didn't get any worse for Irvine, possibly because it couldn't. The Anteaters made 17 turnovers in the first half and 24 for the game. Yet, when Wendell Robinson made a three-point basket they were down by only eight, 80-72, with five minutes left.

What saved the Aztecs was Chad Nelson and Jason Richey, who both scored 22 points, and Thompson, who scored 20. All three made key baskets down the stretch.

Juma Jackson had 23 points for Irvine.

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