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BIG WEST BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT : Irvine Hopes to Recover Against Lowly Pacific

Times Staff Writer

Their center and leading scorer spent Monday alternating between bed and bathroom with a severe case of intestinal flu.

Their power forward, who was the top scorer and rebounder over a 10-game span before missing Saturday’s regular-season finale, has been receiving treatment three times a day from former Ram trainer Gary Tuthill, trying to rehabilitate a deep thigh bruise.

And their once-feared outside shooters made just 15 of 60 three-pointers in the past four games . . . all losses at home.

The UC Irvine Anteaters are hurting--medically and offensively--and it doesn’t bode well for them tonight when they meet the University of the Pacific at 9 in the first round of the Big West Conference tournament at the Long Beach Arena.

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Center Mike Doktorczyk, who’s averaging 16 points and eight rebounds a game this season, and power forward Ricky Butler, who has averaged 19 points and eight rebounds in his past 10 games, both will play tonight. Doktorczyk said he felt better Tuesday, but was still “queasy.” Trainer Paul Gardikas said Butler’s bruised thigh also was improved. But the Anteaters (11-16 overall and 8-10 in the Big West) likely will need everyone operating close to 100% to beat the Tigers (7-20, 3-15) for a third time this season. The first two victories weren’t exactly routs.

Doktorczyk made all 12 of his field goal attempts in the first meeting, a 90-88 victory in the Bren Center. And guard Kevin Floyd tossed in an off-balance three-pointer to send the second meeting into overtime at Stockton. Irvine won that one, 95-92.

Irvine has its share of offensive weapons--six players have scored 21 or more points in a game--but Floyd said the Anteaters “all have to be running like Rolls-Royces to win.”

And then there’s the numbers game that Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan figures he’s bound to lose sooner or later. Mulligan’s teams are 18-0 against Pacific.

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“You always hate to play a team in the tournament that you’ve beaten twice in the season,” he said.

How about a team you’ve beaten 18 times in a lifetime?

If nothing else, Irvine’s four-game, season-ending humiliation in front of the home folks instilled a sense of humility. “I think everyone realizes that Pacific cannot be taken lightly,” Doktorczyk said.

The first two games proved that and the Anteaters were healthy then. Doktorczyk was feeling especially well. He scored a career-high 28 in the first game and 26 in the second. He missed a total of four shots in the two games.

“We’ve made Mike Doktorczyk into an All-America candidate,” Tiger Coach Bob Thomason said.

It’s not hard to imagine the expression on Mulligan’s face when he heard Doktorczyk was ill.

“You can’t believe how frustrated I was,” Mulligan said. “And Ricky hasn’t been able to practice for a week. He’s still limping. I hate to say to the perimeter players, ‘OK, guys, it’s your bag.’ Our three-point shooting has been a joke lately. Our perimeter situation isn’t very good at the moment.”

So the Anteaters figure to open with a jam-it-inside philosophy and see what happens. They are also going to go with the go-get-'em, man-to-man defense that rattled UC Santa Barbara and allowed Irvine to cut a 23-point first-half deficit to one before losing, 78-70, Saturday.

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If Irvine can muster the defensive intensity it showed in the second half Saturday, that could be a determining factor.

“Pacific runs as good an offense as any team in the conference,” Mulligan said. “I’ve said all along I really like their team.”

The Tigers have four scorers averaging in double figures. Center Don Lyttle, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, leads the team in points (13 per game), but he has pumped in 54 points in two games against Irvine’s porous interior defense.

“I think we can score against them,” Thomason said, “but we need to play great defense. We have to slow Doktorczyk and control Floyd. We’ve seen Floyd struggle offensively, but every time he shoots against us, it goes in.”

Floyd, a senior who is the only Anteater to start every game this season and has started 48 in a row, acutely feels the sense of urgency tonight.

Irvine won five of six before coming home with a chance to take second place in the Big West. Then came the four-game flop. Now, instead of having Wednesday night off, they likely are battling for the right to meet 18-ranked Nevada Las Vegas in the second round Thursday night.


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