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Irvine’s Miglinieks Cuts Long Beach Off at the Pass

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The strategy was simple, seemingly sound and functional.

And it might have worked if only Raimonds Miglinieks wasn’t, well, so good.

But Miglinieks, UC Irvine’s point guard with a flair for the sensational, thwarted Long Beach State’s plans as quickly as one of his passes reaches a teammate’s hands. Even teammates who aren’t ready.

Miglinieks’ sensational passing and timely scoring were the difference in Irvine’s 78-68 Big West Conference victory over Long Beach at the Bren Center. Miglinieks had a career-high 14 assists and 15 points, even though stopping the junior from Riga, Latvia, was paramount in Long Beach’s plans.

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“Our game plan was to stop him from penetrating and then hitting the open men,” said Rasul Salahuddin, Miglinieks’ 49er counterpart. “We knew we could win the game if we didn’t let (him pass) the ball all over the place to their big people.”

So, what happened?

“He’s a good, smart player,” Salahuddin said. “In the second half, he found guys on back-door plays and cuts to the basket. We couldn’t stop it.”

Few have.

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Miglinieks is second in the conference in assists, averaging 7.6 per game. He has had 12 assists in a game twice.

“This is what a playmaker is supposed to do,” Miglinieks said. “You have to control the game and get the ball to the guys who can score.

“You have to feed the post, make great plays for great players.”

He did so just about whenever he pleased.

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Miglinieks passed for six assists in the first half as Irvine took control. He continually confounded Long Beach--one of the Big West’s best defensive teams--by setting up teammates for open shots. Not just open shots but open shots under the basket.

“There’s no question--he’s the best passing point guard in the conference,” Long Beach Coach Seth Greenberg said.

Actually, Miglinieks might be too good for the conference. He’s certainly too good for his teammates at times, as his eight turnovers attest.

Sometimes the Anteaters can’t hang on to his passes. Other times, they simply don’t think they are in position to receive passes and then, the ball whizzes right by them.

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“He did a lot of things,” said freshman forward Kevin Simmons, who scored a game-high 18 points and was the recipient of many Miglinieks’ passes.


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