UC Irvine might never win another game.
The Anteaters played about as well as they can Monday night. They shot 46% from the field and 78% at the free-throw line. Point guard Raimonds Miglinieks had 22 points, 12 assists and only three turnovers. Their forwards made 24 of 47 shots and scored a combined 62 points.
And they lost their fifth in a row.
Utah State (11-2, 5-0 in the Big West) made 10 of 11 shots from the field during a five-minute stretch late in the second half and held off a furious Irvine rally for a 93-87 victory in front of 1,875 in the Bren Center.
"I feel sorry for Irvine," Utah State Coach Larry Eustachy said. "They've got a good collection of players. Things just haven't gone their way yet."
Now the Aggies, well, everything's going their way. They won their eighth in a row and are off to their best start in 12 years.
"We're going for (former UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian's) record of 34 in a row," Eustachy said, smiling.
Irvine's and Utah State's streaks appeared to be in jeopardy for most of the game Monday night. The Anteaters (4-8, 0-5) were playing intense defense and had a one-point lead at halftime despite the fact the Aggies had 11 offensive rebounds. And Irvine led by seven (57-50) with 13 minutes 54 seconds remaining in the game.
But Utah State turned a two-point deficit into a six-point lead while making 10 of 11 field-goal attempts from the 10:13 mark to 5:05. And then a few seconds later, Corwin Woodard--who led the Aggies with 24 points--dribbled the ball off his foot, scooped it up and threw in a 15-footer to give Utah State an 80-72 lead.
Irvine kept battling and had a chance to cut the Aggies' lead to two with 45 seconds and again with 31 seconds left in the game. But senior forward Khalid Channell missed a 10-foot jumper in the lane and Miglinieks' layup attempt bounced around the rim and fell off.
Then the Aggies threw two long passes over the Anteater press for dunks that put the game away.
"I'm out of things to say," said forward Mark Odsather, who came into the game as the Big West's top-scorer in conference action and had 14 points Monday night. "Every night someone seems to step up and have a career night against us. I guess it's the Irvine jinx.
"I mean (Woodard) fumbles the ball and then hits a fadeaway, falling down shot right in my face. I mean things like that are frustrating. I saw that and thought, 'Oh God, here we go again.' "
Miglinieks, the former Red Army conscript from Latvia, seemed determined to change the Anteaters' losing ways with his own sheer will. He made five of seven first-half shots--including three of four three-pointers--and continually broke down the Aggie defense with drive after drive that drew the defense and opened up layups for Irvine's post players.
"The guy might be a pro," Eustachy said. "He's the best player we've played against this year. I mean he warrants double-teaming like they used to do with Magic Johnson just to keep the ball out of his hands."
All the positives and praise aside, however, Irvine fell short of victory again. After a lethargic effort in Saturday night's loss to Nevada, they came back strong and still came up empty.
"I have absolutely no problem at all with the effort tonight," Irvine Coach Rod Baker said. "This ain't metaphysics. We did some things better tonight but it wasn't enough. Now, we just have to step it up another level."
Doesn't he feel even a little bit unlucky?
"A couple of those shots they made . . . well, you know, when things are going good, those are your rebounds," he said.