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Irvine Suffers Through Painful Fourth Straight Loss

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Times Staff Writer

Scott Brooks had tears in his eyes, but they weren’t caused by the pain in his badly sprained left ankle. What really hurts Brooks is the way his team, UC Irvine, is currently playing.

“This eats me up,” said Brooks after Irvine’s 92-85 loss to UC Santa Barbara Thursday night, the Anteaters’ fourth straight defeat. “This is biting my heart right now.

“I’m not a guy who can easily accept something like this. I know this team is better than four losses in a row. I know I’m a better player than someone who’s on a team that has lost four in a row.

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“Now, we’re battling for eighth place. There’s no way we should be in this situation. This is what we’ve practiced all summer for . . . and it seems like, now, some guys don’t want to play.”

Brooks’ voice trailed off. In February, the play of the Anteaters have done the same thing. Irvine’s longest losing streak of the season has dropped the Anteaters to 11-12 overall and 6-8 in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. That translates to an eighth-place tie with Utah State.

Only eight teams qualify for the PCAA Tournament.

Although a late second-half surge made the final score appear competitive, the Anteaters lost this one early. Santa Barbara (11-10, 6-6) led by 19-5 barely four minutes into the game and increased its advantage to as much as 27 points in the second half.

“That was a disgraceful 30 minutes,” Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said. “Awful.

“We came back pretty well, but that’s no excuse for the way we started. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain this team. One guy plays great one night and the next game, zero.”

Irvine shot 40.7% from the field and was outrebounded, 43-34, by a Santa Barbara team that has now twice beaten the Anteaters with ease. Last month, the Gauchos routed Irvine in Santa Barbara, 93-75.

In this game, Santa Barbara shot 64.2% from the field, with five players scoring in double figures. Guard Brian Johnson led the Gauchos with 23 points, followed by Khris Fortson with 17, Carrick DeHart with 15, Brian Vaughns with 14 and Brian Shaw with 12.

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Brooks had 28 points for Irvine, playing 33 minutes on the sore ankle. Forward Frank Woods and center Wayne Engelstad added 20 and 18 points, respectively.

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