Most of the 2,955 who were in the Bren Center probably went home talking about the last few minutes of Saturday night's game, UC Irvine's frenetic defense and last-minute charge or maybe University of the Pacific's clutch free-throw shooting.
Pacific held on for an 84-83 Big West victory, but this game was decided in the first half when the Anteaters worked the ball inside and missed layups and the Tigers passed the ball around the perimeter and buried three-pointers.
"We just didn't take the ball to the rim hard enough," Irvine Coach Rod Baker said. "We couldn't be sure we'd get to the (free-throw) line and we didn't try hard enough to score."
Irvine (9-13 overall and 5-10 in conference) trailed by 14 at halftime after Pacific (13-9, 8-6) shredded the Anteaters' 2-3 zone defense with nine three-pointers. Irvine came out and in the second half playing intense man-to-man, but came up short when the Tigers made 11 of 12 free throws in the final 1 1/2 minutes.
"We were a little fatigued late in the game," Pacific Coach Bob Thomason said. "We don't have the depth and were not as athletic as they are, but we're a pretty good shooting team. We couldn't have shot our free throws any better.
"And the first half was the best half of basketball we've played this year."
Irvine forward Mark Odsather thought the Anteaters played "with the most intensity, emotion and heart we have all year" in the second half.
"I think it was our best half of basketball this season," he said.
And the Tigers' best 20 minutes was a point better than Irvine's.
"You can't spot a team 14 points and expect to win," Irvine Coach Rod Baker said in a barely audible whisper.
The Anteaters, trailing by 10 with 15 minutes 14 seconds to play, outscored the Tigers, 14-5, and trailed by just a point, 60-59. But Pacific's Charles Jones, who finished with 24 points, hit his fourth three-pointer of the night.
"We were really struggling and that was a huge shot," Thomason said. "We set up a little play but (Odsather) slipped through the screen and C.J. just hit it with a hand right in his face.
"That's one of those shots when you go, 'Uh-oh . . . uh-oh . . . nice shot!"
Pacific slowly built on the lead and led by eight with 1:02 to play before the Anteaters' full-court press created havoc, a couple of turnovers and a few fouls that the Tigers turned into the winning points at the free-throw line.
The Tigers, who committed only four first-half turnovers, made seven in the second half when Irvine's swarming man-to-man seemed to intimidate them. Irvine, which gave up seven offensive rebounds in the first half and was outrebounded, 18-16, dominated the boards out of the man-to-man and finished with a 41-31 edge in rebounds.
"Sometimes it's difficult to tell if you're not doing the right thing or just not doing it hard enough," Baker said. "But we had to something different and, as it turned out, we were all much more aggressive.
"But it doesn't feel any better just because we played well in the second half. So what? The end result is the same. If there's a lesson to be learned, it's that if we play hard, we're good enough to win. But you can't just play a half, you have to play a whole."
Irvine freshman Kevin Simmons scored 25 points, 17 in the second half and nine in the final 4:45 as the Anteaters came roaring back. The Tigers, however, had the free-throw touch and the possession arrow in their favor.
Irvine's Michael Tate and Zuri Williams tied up Adam Jacobsen with 11.6 seconds remaining, but Pacific was awarded the ball. Then Rayne Mahaffey and Jones each made two free throws.
"Our offense is not the problem," said Irvine point guard Raimonds Miglinieks, who scored eight of his 13 points in the final 14.8 seconds. "We scored 83 points. Our problem is defense."