Sabrina Roberson, a 5-foot-8 senior guard for UC Irvine, has a little more control over her physical abilities these days.
In other words, it's safe to attend Irvine women's basketball games. There is no longer any danger of being whacked by an errant ball when Roberson darts to the hoop.
"She was pretty raw as a freshman," Coach Mark Adams said. "She had been a post player in high school and had to make the conversion to the perimeter. She would dribble down court and the basketball would fly into the stands for no reason at all."
Now it's the mental side that Roberson is trying to smooth over.
Adams will experiment with bringing Roberson off the bench. It's a bit unusual, considering she had started the last two years and is one of two players who were on the UCI team that reached the NCAA tournament in 1995. But it could be for her own--and the Anteaters'--good.
Nothing gets Roberson more worked up than the first few minutes of a game. The symptoms vary.
In the season opener against San Diego, she was hardly heard from in the first half and the Anteaters trailed, 29-25. Against Utah five days later, she scored 10 points in the first 10 minutes and the Anteaters led, 20-19.
"Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it works against me," Roberson said. "I have this nervous feeling until I get used to the flow of the game. It hurts more than it helps. I think coming off the bench allows me to see the game better. I need that perspective."
This is more than just an idle thought. It has worked once. Roberson didn't start against Northern Arizona a week ago because of a thumb injury. She came off the bench and matched her career-high with 18 points.
"Sabrina gets wrapped a little too tight,' Adams said. "Maybe sitting her down at the start of the game will relax her."
There may be no faster basketball player in the Big West Conference. She was a four-time state medalist in the 800 meters at Corpus Christi (Tex.) High School, and was state champion as a senior.
Texas and Texas A & M wanted her for track and field as well as basketball.
"If it takes everyone else 10 seconds to get somewhere, Sabrina gets there in four," Anteater guard Megan Stafford said.
Roberson chose basketball and Irvine--to return to Southern California, where she had lived until she was 9.
"Basketball was my love," Roberson said. "I went with my heart."
Adams, then a UCI assistant, saw that Roberson's speed was going to make her an asset on the perimeter. She has been Irvine's stopper defensively and generally draws the opposing team's point guard. On offense, though, playing guard was on-the-job training.
"I would drive to the basket really hard and the ball would hit my toe and it would be like 'Oops,' " Roberson said. "I took a basketball everywhere I went for two years. I played in leagues and met guys who taught me ballhandling drills."
It has paid off.
The Irvine men's team got a little smaller Monday, when 6-10 Andrew Carlson turned up with a broken right hand. He is expected to be out four to six weeks.
Carlson was injured while playfully wrestling with roommate and teammate Juma Jackson, according to Irvine officials. Carlson has struggled this season, averaging 3.2 points and 3.0 rebounds.
Irvine does not have a player taller than 6-7. By Thursday's game against Portland, things may be looking up.
Final grades are expected this week for 6-8 Wendell Robinson, who was academically ineligible for the fall quarter. The Anteaters will probably have 6-9 Matt Willard available Thursday. He has not played this season because of mononucleosis. He had a full practice Sunday for the first time since receiving medical clearance.
"You have to have the bad things happen before the good things," Coach Pat Douglass said. "We've had a lot of bad things happen. I expect we're going to have good things happen before too long."
At 2-30 over the last one-plus seasons, the Anteaters must have earned some good karma.
The Irvine men's team focused on offense during practice last week with some improvement. In previous games, the Anteaters had been reduced to Ben Jones and Adam Stetson shooting and three guys more or less watching. Jones and Stetson had 32 of the team's points in a 65-43 loss to Oregon State on Dec. 4.
Among other things, Junior Bond seems to have been given more responsibility at point guard.
Saturday, six players had at least eight points against San Diego State. Bond started an 11-1 run with back-to-back three-pointers.
"We really put some intensity in our offense last week," guard Lamarr Parker said.
Inch-by-inch: Ty Loomis made a cross-country journey to play volleyball for Irvine. He sent 20 videos--all to California schools--to attract interest in his skills. Irvine was his best offer.
So Loomis, a freshman from Warner Robins (Ga.), headed west in August.
"I would get a call from him every day," assistant volleyball coach Jason Bilbruck said. "One day he said, 'I should be there tomorrow. There are only three inches left to go on the map.' "
There may be those who think you couldn't pay Irvine students to attend an Anteater basketball game. But students apparently can't say no to a freebie.
A student group, working with the athletic department, arranged for the first 2,000 students to get in free for UCI's Nov. 18 game against Pepperdine. About 900 took advantage, swelling the crowd to 2,268. The first 400 students were allowed in free for the Oregon State game on Dec. 6 and filled that quota.