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Irvine Follows Butler’s Lead, Defeats Titans : Basketball: Senior center finishes with career bests in points (32) and rebounds (17) as Anteaters beat Fullerton, 92-87.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

That was the new Ricky Butler on the court Saturday at the Bren Center. “A selfish guy,” Butler said, his smile spreading wide.

He didn’t hog all of UC Irvine’s points in the Anteaters’ 92-87 victory over Cal State Fullerton, just 32 of them. He left a few rebounds for others, claiming a mere 17 for himself.

Both numbers were Butler’s career highs, and with his fifth double-double of the season he did a rather generous thing. He helped his UC Irvine teammates break a four-game losing streak with a Big West Conference victory in front of 2,267, beating a Fullerton team that has lost five of its past six after winning 10 of 11.

“I just wanted to show the new me,” said Butler, a 6-7 senior center, criticizing himself for passing back out too often in recent games. “Basically, I’m going to shoot the ball every time I get it, or get fouled. I’m taking over the team again.

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Butler’s effectiveness inside was helped by the Titans’ inside defense, weakened by the absence of center Aaron Wilhite, on the bench with a knee injury, and the foul trouble of Agee Ward, who scored 25 points despite sitting down for a stretch in the second half.

“I thought under the circumstances we didn’t play a bad ballgame,” Fullerton Coach John Sneed said. “Fatigue really affected our ballclub because of the kind of depth right now. The number of guys I had out there with four fouls, especially late in the game, made us very tentative.

Still, Fullerton was right there at the end.

Irvine (8-13, 3-6) led by as many as seven, and still led by five points with 2:19 left after Craig Marshall hit two free throws.

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But Fullerton (11-8, 4-6) cut the lead to three on a basket by Ward.

On the other end, Irvine’s Jeff Herdman missed a three-pointer, and then, after Butler got the rebound, Herdman drove and missed a layup.

Fullerton’s Joe Small, who scored 17, came down and hit a 19-foot jumper to cut the lead to 86-85.

Irvine missed its next shot, but Butler rebounded and put it back up for a three-point lead.

Fullerton got the lead back down to one with 47 seconds left, after Small hit two free throws. But then Fullerton’s Greg Vernon was called for a foul just as Vernon and Wayne Williams seemed to have wrapped up Gerald McDonald in a corner-trap near halfcourt.

That was a call Sneed disputed.

“That could have been the difference in the ballgame,” he said.

After McDonald hit two free throws, the Anteaters had 90-87 lead with 36 seconds remaining.

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The Titans took a timeout, and then Williams missed a three-pointer that would have tied it. Butler--who else--got the rebound and Herdman hit two free-throws with nine seconds left for the final margin.

Fullerton led by 10 points early in the game, taking a 13-3 lead by smothering Butler inside, dropping three and even four people down on him.

On the bench, Dylan Rigdon, a banished starter, watched closely. Rigdon was benched for the entire second half against New Mexico State for the rare offense of not shooting enough, attempting only one shot.

“I want Rigdon to shoot the ball, so he has to shoot it,” Mulligan said.

Mulligan sent Rigdon in after a little more than three minutes.

“Just watching on the side, every time he got the ball, four guys were on him. We were down like, 7-0. I knew if Ricky gets the ball he can find you anywhere,” Rigdon said.

Rigdon went in and opened up the game, first by hitting three-pointers while Fullerton worried about Butler and Herdman. Herdman, who has carried the Anteaters with his three-point shooting recently, scored 16 points, but made only one of eight three-pointers.

Rigdon hit four of six three-pointers in the first half, and then took advantage of Fullerton’s preoccupation with him. He passed into Butler, and drove when the Titans guarded him closely, finishing with 17 points and six rebounds.

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“I came out a little more fired up, and motivated,” Rigdon said. “I wanted show Mulligan I still have my game, I can still shoot, I can still play.”

Rigdon riddled Fullerton for the second time in a row, having hit nine of nine shots and all seven three-pointers in a victory over Fullerton last season.

“I was kind of glad to see those uniforms again,” he said.

Game Notes

UC Irvine Athletic Director Tom Ford said University of California schools have not yet received their state-budget figures, but that he expects departmental cuts. State-budget cuts have put Cal State Fullerton on the verge of discontinuing its Division I-A football program. . . . Keith Stewart, a transfer point guard who has started for Purdue and Marquette, was on the Irvine bench. He is awaiting official notification of admission to the university. . . . Brian Underwood, a volunteer assistant at Irvine, worked on the staff of Fullerton Coach John Sneed last season. This week, he arrived at an Irvine practice decked out in Titan warmups. “To get ‘em angry,” Underwood said, smiling. . . . Irvine’s 54% shooting was its best of the season. . . . Next: Cal State Fullerton plays at Utah State Thursday, and UC Irvine plays at Fresno State Thursday.


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