UCI Notebook : Anteaters Looking for Sequel to Dream Win
The bus was a rolling room of gloom. No one spoke. No one even slipped on headphones and flicked on some music for consolation.
The 45-minute bus trip home from the Forum that March evening in 1986 was a funeral procession for the UC Irvine basketball team. Just days before, the Anteaters were 16-10 and talking about postseason prospects. But they lost the regular-season finale to rival-and-nemesis Cal State Fullerton, and now the hated Titans had knocked them out of the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament in the first round.
Their season--once so promising--was dead.
“Players are usually big optimists, but I don’t think anyone on the team thought we’d get a chance to go on,” said guard Mike Hess, then a sophomore. “Then we got the NIT berth and it was a second chance . . . It was like a dream.”
The dream culminated on the night of March 13 when Irvine beat UCLA, 80-74, at Pauley Pavilion in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Hess and Wayne Engelstad, the only other remaining Anteater who played in that game, will get a chance to relive the dream for a few minutes when they walk back onto the court at Pauley for tonight’s nonconference game against UCLA.
“All I remember is Johnny Rogers hitting about 15 jumpers,” said Engelstad, (Actually, Rogers made 11 field goals and scored 29 points and Tod Murphy scored 20.)
But both Engelstad and Hess also played important roles.
Engelstad, who leads UCI this season with an average of 20.3 points per game, scored only two points in that first-ever game between UCI and UCLA. But he guarded the Bruins’ Reggie Miller for half the game and helped hold Miller to a sub-par performance (5 of 13 from the floor and 16 points).
“Troy Carmon and I had Reggie pretty frustrated,” Engelstad said. “It was a really fun night . . . really fun.”
Hess, who now plays both guard positions and leads the team in minutes played, came off the bench that night to make 5 of 7 shots and score 10 points.
“That was like the highlight game of my life,” Hess said. “There’s been nothing like it since. We thought our season was over. A school like Irvine doesn’t get a berth on its name recognition. Then we got the second chance and beat UCLA. It was the best.”
A few days later, the Anteaters lost in the second round of the NIT to Brigham Young. But Hess and Engelstad always will prefer to recall the memory of a win in Pauley Pavilion.
Beating the Bruins in Pauley tonight would be a big victory for Irvine, but it isn’t the feat it once was. There probably never will be another college basketball dynasty like UCLA’s in the late 1960s through mid-'70s, but not only the win totals and attendance figures are down these days.
Opposing coaches are beginning to discover that they no longer have to deal with the psychological factors once involved with playing in Pauley.
“Most of us are at an age where we can’t help but remember how UCLA would beat . . . everybody,” UCI Coach Bill Mulligan said. “Even if you were a Bruin fan, you were hoping that someone would at least give them a good game at Pauley once in a while.
“But most of that Pauley Pavilion mystique has worn off. Don’t get me wrong. Those weren’t dog teams (Temple, BYU and St. John’s) that beat them there this year. And I think (Coach Walt) Hazzard has a nice team. But these days you don’t have to talk to kids about playing there. They can’t remember the Bruins’ glory years.”
So has a trip to Pauley now become just another road game?
“Hey, we’ve won at the Thomas and Mack,” Engelstad said of Nevada Las Vegas’ always-sold-out 18,500-seat campus arena. “We can win anywhere. “
The men’s volleyball team, UCI’s 19th intercollegiate sport, makes its debut Jan. 8 at Crawford Hall against Loyola Marymount.
Bill Ashen, who coached the team last season when it competed on the club level, is the head coach.
Anteater Notes Arthur Phillips, a 6-foot 10-inch center from Daniel Murphy High School in Los Angeles who dropped out of UCI last June, will begin attending classes again in January. “He came to us and wanted to see if he could get back on the team,” Coach Bill Mulligan said. “He seems like a new Arthur Phillips. He’s been on time for every appointment and done everything we’ve asked so far.” If Phillips, who had limited playing time in nine games last season, can regain his eligibility, Irvine should be in good shape up front next season with 6-9 Ed Johansen returning and the addition of Phillips, 6-6 Ricky Butler and 6-9 redshirt Don May. . . . Irvine’s women’s basketball team is off to an 0-5 start, and the future doesn’t look any brighter. Forward Cheryl Eiland, the team’s second-leading scorer with a 10.8 average, will miss Saturday’s game against Northwestern because of inflamed tissue on the bottom of her right foot. Point guard Kippie Brown, averaging 5.5 points and 5.4 assists, sprained her left foot in practice Wednesday and is doubtful for Saturday. Both players started all five of UCI’s games and were among the top four in minutes played. . . . UCI’s sailing team has been ranked 20th in the nation by a panel of coaches. Old Dominion is ranked No. 1, followed by Connecticut College and Navy. Stanford is the top-ranked West Coast team at No. 11.