Frozen Alaska Is Fertile Ground for UC Irvine Rebirth

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This seemed as good a place as any to try to bury last season, here in the frozen North, 2,400 miles from home and at the expense of a basketball team worse off than UC Irvine ever was.

The Anteaters, not yet free of the memories of a 5-23 season and reeling from a 33-point loss to UCLA in their opener Friday, were in need of a salve, and they got one in Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders came in Saturday with the longest losing streak in NCAA Division I, 19 games, and it was stretched to 20 by Irvine's 96-81 victory in front of 5,443 in Sullivan Arena in the second round of the Great Alaska Shootout.

Irvine plays its final tournament game at 4 p.m. (PST) today against Siena, a team that lost an upset bid against 18th-ranked Virginia by three points in the first round.

Spurred by Jeff Herdman's 20-point, 13-rebound performance, Irvine (1-1) reached .500 for the first time since two games into the 1988-89 season. They started 0-2 and 2-5 last season before a skid that lasted 15 games, the longest in school history.

"After the game, our guys were trying to act casual, like they win all the time," Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan said. "Hey, a win is a win. We needed it--not that Texas Tech doesn't."

Dylan Rigdon, Irvine's sophomore guard, had an idea how Texas Tech might have felt.

"It was kind of weird," he said. "I was thinking back to our streak, when we were losing 15 in a row, and how hungry we were to get a win."

The Anteaters pulled away midway through the second half, after trailing at halftime, 48-44, and managed to avoid becoming the second Orange County team this month to help another ballclub end a nation-leading losing streak. Cal State Fullerton's football team lost to New Mexico State last weekend, ending the Aggies' skid at 27.

Texas Tech is a struggling team that was playing without its best player, sophomore Will Flemons. Flemons, out with a broken foot, led the Southwest Conference in rebounding last season with 10 per game.

But there were indications of what could be ahead for the Anteaters.

They again played the pressing, running game with an emphasis on three-point shots that it threw at UCLA, this time attempting 36 three-pointers and making 11. And they reached Mulligan's magic number of 95, which he thinks the team needs to attain to play this style effectively.

But the best indications of change came not from the style but from the players.

They came from Herdman, who ran smack into the face of a confidence crisis last season and finally fell out of the starting lineup. His numbers in the last few games--six points, six points, two points.

He went from leading the nation in three-point percentage for a time two seasons ago to shooting 38% from the field last season as a junior.

He had five points in the first half Saturday, but when the time came to face the humiliation of losing to Texas Tech, Herdman rose and refused.

He made three of four three-point attempts in the first 11 minutes of the second half, when Irvine made its move. He made seven of 15 shots, four of 11 from three-point range. Six of his 13 rebounds were on offense.

"No one wants to feel like we did last night," Herdman said, referring to the UCLA game. "We came out and played hard and put it together. As a team leader, I just had to come out and do it."

Mulligan saw that.

"I thought Herdman's hustle was unbelieveable," he said.

The other notes of promise came from two new players, David Hollaway and Cornelius Banks.

Hollaway, a transfer from West L.A. College, scored 18 points off the bench in relief of point guard Gerald McDonald, including two three-pointers in the critical second-half run.

Banks, a forward from Santa Monica College who scored 20 against UCLA in his first major college game, came off the bench for 16 Saturday, including two three-pointers.

Ricky Butler, Irvine's senior center, scored 15, and sophomore forward Jeff Von Lutzow and Rigdon each had 11.

Derex Butts led Texas Tech with 20 points.

Irvine stopped its losing streak at two, including a loss in the final game last year.

"Finally," Rigdon said. "We're pretty excited."

The tables--at last--had been turned.

"Hey, they've really only lost two," Mulligan said, referring to Texas Tech. "It's a new year. Thank God, it's a new year."

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