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UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : Game’s Fever Pitch Does Little to Help Matsuhara’s Temperature

A week ago, Colleen Matsuhara was in bed with a 103-degree temperature and the phone clutched in her hot little hand.

On the other end of the line?

A doctor?

A pharmacist?

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The 911 operator?

How about Irvine women’s basketball administrative assistant Margarette-Carole Bolden, who was court side at the Bren Center, making like a personal play-by-play announcer for the Anteater coach during Irvine’s game against Nevada.

Bolden’s first-half reports were as soothing as a cool towel on the forehead. Irvine was leading by 18 at halftime. But the Anteaters didn’t help reduce their coach’s temperature--or blood pressure--in the second half. They blew a 22-point lead, trailed by four and then rallied to take a 69-67 lead with four seconds left.

Nevada got off a desperation three-point attempt as time ran out. All Matsuhara could hear was the buzzer and the muffled buzz of the fans.

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“What happened?” she asked. “What happened?”

“They didn’t make it,” Bolden said.

Ho-hum. Just another happy ending for Irvine.

“We seem to have a death wish,” said Matsuhara. “We like to dig ourselves into a hole and see what fun it is to get out.”

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The Anteaters have excavated a 10-6 record and they’re 7-2 in the Big West, alone in first place.

In Matsuhara’s first three seasons at Irvine, the Anteaters won only 12 games. They already have won two more regular-season conference games in half a season than they did in her first three.

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Building blocks: Athletic Director Dan Guerrero gave Matsuhara a one-year contract extension this spring--despite the 12-69 record of the first three--and guess who’s wearing a Cheshire cat grin now?

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At the time, Guerrero said the school and Matsuhara had an understanding that it would take at least four years to turn the program around.

“I have this little crystal ball . . .” Matsuhara said, laughing. “But I did say when I first took the job that it would take four years to get it headed in the right direction. And I’ve always felt like this was the year our juniors would mature and start playing consistently well and, as it turned out, our senior class has stepped up too.

“I think I can really say that I’ve never had any doubts. We started with a group of very, very young players and it took a long time for them to understand what had to be done, day in and day out, not just for a few minutes in a game.”

Matsuhara also wasn’t worried that all that losing would break the spirit of her youthful charges during the maturation process. The Anteaters start three seniors and two juniors, all of whom are well acquainted with defeat.

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“Really, this group has been pretty resilient,” Matsuhara said. “They haven’t paid that much attention to the lack of respect. They’re extremely competitive and even during those times when we lost a lot, so many of those were close ones. It was just a matter of doing a few things, executing a block-out assignment here or maybe putting in a free throw there, that made the difference.”

Now, the little things are adding up to a big season.

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Running on full: Maybe the most important thing the Anteaters learned over the last few years was their limitations.

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“Our margin of error is very small,” Matsuhara said. “We’re not going to physically overmatch anybody, or outshoot anybody. We have to outwork them, out-hustle them.

“Our conditioning has been a factor. I think we’ve been able to wear people down. We haven’t done anything differently, I just think it’s a matter of working harder. The difference is mainly that the players have bought into the idea that you have to ask yourself after every practice, ‘Did I do anything to help myself improve and did I do anything to help someone else get better?’ ”

Junior center Allah-Mi Basheer, who leads the team in scoring at 15 points a game and is second in rebounding (eight), says the team has “a lot more more heart” and is willing to work hard to improve.

“I think the conditioning really helps us defensively,” Basheer said. “I know when I get tired, I tend to slack off on defense. But our stamina is better this year.”

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Barking zone: Forward Michael Tate’s booming growl is a key to the success of the 2-3 zone that has helped the Anteater men’s team win three in a row.

“Michael is really good in a zone,” Coach Rod Baker said. “He ends up in the back and he’s very good at communicating when there’s a possibility of us being hurt in a certain area.”

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On guard: Senior Chris Brown is slowly earning more and more playing time. He played nine minutes against San Jose State Sunday, 16 minutes against Long Beach State Thursday and 19 Saturday against UC Santa Barbara.

During those three games, Brown has made five of 12 three-pointers and has two assists.

“I think Chris is figuring out that to play, he has to play a certain way,” Baker said. “I’m most happy about the fact that he hasn’t taken a bad shot in three games. Before, he felt he had to shoot his way out of it.”

Notes

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Point guard Raimonds Miglinieks, who had 53 points, 27 assists and eight rebounds in three victories last week, was named Big West player of the week. . . . The men’s volleyball team has equaled last year’s victory total after two games. Irvine beat Pepperdine for the first time in school history last week and is 2-0, 1-0 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Last year, the Anteaters were 2-20, 1-18 in conference.


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