Midway through the first half Saturday night, it appeared the colossal collapse was complete. UC Irvine, a team that had seemed to put it all together just a month ago, was 23 points behind, and it seemed as if the Anteaters would end their regular season with not so much as a whimper.
At least they went down with a growl and a yelp.
UC Santa Barbara, which had taken a 37-14 first-half lead, made 12 of 14 free throws in the final two minutes and hung on for a 78-70 Big West Conference victory in front of 5,000 in the Bren Center. It was Irvine’s fifth consecutive defeat at home.
The loss means Irvine (11-16 overall and 8-10 in the conference) will finish in eighth place and meet the winner of today’s University of the Pacific-San Jose State game in the first round of the Big West Tournament at Long Beach Arena at 9 p.m. Wednesday night. Santa Barbara (20-7, 11-7) takes third place and meets Long Beach Thursday at 4 p.m.
Many in the sellout crowd were Santa Barbara fans . . . and many more probably wished they were in the first half. But Irvine battled back and closed the gap to one--at 64-63 and 66-65--with three minutes left in the game.
Had Irvine not made the run, it might as well have mailed in the rest of the season.
It was senior night’s for Irvine, and center Mike Doktorczyk and guard Kevin Floyd appeared to be under the impression that it was a license to free-lance in the early going.
Floyd scored Irvine’s first six points and finished with 17, but he also shot two airballs, dribbled the ball off his shoes a couple of times and tried to take the ball to the hoop on a one-on-three solo flight.
Doktorczyk made just one of six first-half shots and finished four of 13--including zero for five on three-pointers--but he made all 16 free throws he attempted and scored 24 points.