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Brooks Scores 41 to Pace UC Irvine Over Pacific

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Times Staff Writer

The last time UC Irvine guard Scott Brooks played here, Coach Bill Mulligan praised him for resisting the temptation to use the game as a forum to show up University of the Pacific Coach Tom O’Neill.

Brooks grew up in nearby Lathrop and dreamed of playing at UOP. But the Tiger coaching staff thought he was too short and didn’t offer him a scholarship. The 5-11 guard turned in a solid--if unspectacular--performance that night last season, finishing with 10 points as UCI won, 83-75.

Saturday night was the senior guard’s last chance, however, and with a cheering section that included his mother, Lee, his East Union (Manteca) High School coach, Bill Stricker, and about 50 other well-wishers, Brooks was obviously inspired. He went to the basket with abandon, arched in three-pointers with his usual accuracy (7 of 11), missed only one free throw (10 of 11) and tied the Spanos Center scoring record with 41 points as the Anteaters beat the Tigers, 90-79, in front of 3,800.

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The victory just about assured Irvine (8-9 in conference and 13-13 overall) of a spot in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament and virtually ended the hopes of Pacific (6-10, 10-15). The Tigers have two games left, both on the road and one against No. 1-ranked Nevada Las Vegas.

The Tigers were bent on stopping Brooks, Irvine’s top scorer, from the outset. O’Neill had 6-7 sophomore Willie Tatum, a quick forward known for his defense, guarding Brooks, sometimes hounding him from the moment he got the ball in the backcourt.

But Brooks wasn’t going to be denied his 40 minutes of glory this time.

“I don’t want to admit it,” he said sheepishly, “but I did want to take it to these guys. The most important thing is that we won, but this was special . . . really special.”

Mulligan, who has never been one to heap praise on his guards, was impressed.

“He was like a man possessed,” Mulligan said, shaking his head in awe. “He was unbelievable. Magnificent.”

O’Neill, who has as much as admitted that he made a big mistake a number of times, paid Brooks his respects too.

“I have so much admiration for him,” he said. “He was phenomenal tonight.”

Brooks now has the second- and third highest-scoring games in UCI history. He scored 43 against Utah State last month, second only to Kevin Magee’s 46-point effort in 1981.

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Brooks started strong and gained confidence as the game progressed. His first basket was at first ruled a three-pointer and then changed to two. And his last basket was a driving reverse-pivot, left-handed layup right out of the Magic Johnson playbook that put the Anteaters up, 90-79, with 22 seconds remaining. He then missed his only free throw of the night on the front end of a one-plus-one with 14 seconds left.

It was one of only two free throws that Irvine missed all night. UCI was 23 of 25.

The Tigers, who trailed by six at halftime, kept the game close until the last five minutes. Tatum led UOP with 23 points and guard Christian Gray added 18. Center Brent Counts, who got in foul trouble early, finished with 13.

But no one could keep pace with Irvine’s mini-scoring machine.

In the final minutes, Brooks’ personal cheering section was waving a sign that read: “Who said Brooks is too short?”

“UOP said it, that’s who,” Brooks said later, flashing a huge grin. Then he walked back out to the court and signed autographs for more than half an hour.

“We had some matchup problems with them,” Mulligan said, standing to the side of the adoring mob. “Their guards were posting up on us all night. I think Tom (O’Neill) does a great job. His only sin was not getting Brooks.”

He wasn’t telling the folks of the San Joaquin Valley anything they didn’t already know.

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