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Anteaters Stay Close but Fall in Overtime : Basketball: Mumford ties score with a second left, but New Mexico State wins, 72-67. UC Irvine now has lost seven in a row.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

UC Irvine’s little scrap of victory came at the end of regulation Saturday.

The Anteaters hadn’t lost yet.

But all it took was another five minutes against New Mexico State for Irvine to wrap up its seventh consecutive loss, falling to the Aggies in overtime, 72-67, in front of 8,919 in the Pan American Center.

“Overtime seemed like a different game,” said Irvine point guard Lloyd Mumford, who forced the overtime by tying the score, 58-58, on a 10-foot jumper with one second left in regulation. “At the end of regulation, it was like we’d won. That was the climax. . . . It was like we were so happy just to get back in it and have a second chance. Then a couple of things didn’t go our way in overtime, and we tended to fall short. And they made their foul shots.”

New Mexico State (13-4, 5-1) made only one field goal in the overtime, but the Aggies got to the free-throw line 15 times and made 12 baskets, including their first 10 in a row.

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Irvine mostly flailed away from three-point range. On the other end, Tracey Ware scored eight of his 19 points in overtime. His three-point play 26 seconds into overtime gave New Mexico State a three-point lead that grew as large as seven.

So the Anteaters stayed close to the Aggies, who share first place in the Big West Conference with Nevada Las Vegas. So they came from eight points behind in the second half to force eight ties, five in the final 5 1/2 minutes. So they actually took a lead with 8 1/2 minutes left and held it for maybe two minutes.

So what?

At the end of the night, after San Jose State beat Nevada for its first Big West Conference victory of the season, Irvine found itself alone in last place.

Irvine Coach Rod Baker said last week that focusing on making the Big West tournament by finishing at least seventh in the 10-team conference wasn’t a good enough goal for this team. But it’s getting there. Fast.

“Not yet, soon,” Baker said. “We need to start getting some wins in conference. We can’t depend on anyone else doing anything.”

The Anteaters need to take care of this losing streak themselves. Granted, seven of their 10 losses have been by five points or fewer. Nevertheless, the streak is beginning to mount a challenge to last season’s 11-game losing streak, during which Baker grew a beard after vowing not to shave until Irvine won.

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But that’s the sort of stunt reserved for teams with few expectations. This one was picked to finish as high as fourth in the Big West. Saturday, the Anteaters play San Jose State at home in a battle for the bottom.

Still, Baker said he found the team’s performance against the Aggies, the preseason pick to win the Big West, “very encouraging.”

“This is not the easiest place to play,” he said. “I think we played pretty well tonight.”

But the thing that rankled is that the opportunity was there. Irvine outshot the Aggies, 45% to 44%, and made five more field goals. The Anteaters dominated the boards, 40-26. They made seven three-pointers to New Mexico State’s five.

What gave? The Aggies dominated the free-throw line, making 23 of 32 (71.9%). Irvine made six of 12.

Irvine was whistled for 27 fouls and New Mexico State 12.

“I didn’t see 27 fouls, other than the fact the officials blew the whistle 27 times,” Baker said. “Both teams were playing man, and both were going to the basket.”

New Mexico State led by as many as eight in the first half, bolstered by Irvine’s seven-minute stretch without a field goal. The lead at halftime was only three, 27-24.

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New Mexico State pulled ahead by eight in the second half, but Irvine fought back to force eight ties, five in the final 5 1/2 minutes.

Jeff Von Lutzow led Irvine with 21 points, and made a three-pointer that gave them the Anteaters their last lead, 50-48, with 5:44 to play. Mumford and Keith Stewart each added 13 points.

The Anteaters had the ball, trailing by two with 27 seconds left in regulation, but were in dire straits after Sam Crawford nearly came up with a steal with seven seconds left, knocking the ball out of bounds.

That was when Mumford forced the overtime after taking a halfcourt inbounds pass in the backcourt with seven seconds left, then driving hard to the basket before pulling up in a crowd and sinking a 10-foot jumper.

“Players play,” Baker said. “Great players make great plays.”

So do good teams, and it was New Mexico State down the stretch.

New Mexico State Coach Neil McCarthy and Crawford admit their team isn’t in peak form--rather far from it--but chose to compliment Irvine.

“They’re very talented,” Crawford said. “They’re going to cause some other people problems, too. Their record, 2-10, is not indicative of their team.”

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Anteater Notes

New Mexico State starter Cliff Reed was absent because of the death of his grandfather. . . . UC Irvine has lost the past 10 meetings with New Mexico State. . . . The Anteaters have not beaten anybody in the month of January since Jan. 26, 1991, when they defeated Cal State Fullerton. The January losing streak is 16. . . . Freshman Shaun Battle, forced into action because of starting center Dee Boyer’s foul trouble and backup center Uzoma Obiekea’s four-game fighting suspension, played a season-high 21 minutes. He had six points, making three of four shots, and shared the rebounding lead with nine. . . . Junior Khari Johnson made his second start of the season at forward, taking the spot that has been filled by Elzie Love and LaDay Smith, who is out because of a foot injury. . . . Next: Pacific at 7:30 Thursday in the Bren Center.

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