The game was for eighth place, and UC Irvine beat Cal State Fullerton, 91-83. But don't suggest to winning Coach Rod Baker it was any less important than when the teams meet again Thursday in the Big West postseason tournament.
"This was a very important game for us," Baker said. "We hadn't beaten this team before, and they're the team that put us on the road to trouble in our first conference game. The way we looked at it we needed to send a message."
The Anteaters did before 1,126 in Titan Gym, and Baker hopes it will be remembered a few days down the road.
The teams will meet again at about 3 p.m. in the second game of the opening round of the conference tournament in Las Vegas. Irvine finished the regular season 11-15, 6-12 in the conference. Fullerton, struggling late in the season with two regulars out because of injuries, finished 7-19, 5-13.
The big difference between this game and Fullerton's 74-68 victory in January was Irvine point guard Raimonds Miglinieks, who scored a career-high 25 points and had 10 assists.
"They did a good job of being very physical with him the last time," Baker said. "This time he handled it much better. He made his free throws and got himself some easy shots. And he also did a better job of kicking it out to people."
Miglinieks, third in the nation in assists, made 11 of 12 free throws and was six of 10 from the field, including two of four on three-point shots. He had 12 points in the last 9 1/2 minutes.
Miglinieks agreed with Baker about the game's importance. "I think now we understand we can beat them," he said. "If we play hard, we can win the game Thursday."
Freshman Kevin Simmons had 20 points, and Khalid Channell came off the bench with 13 for the Anteaters.
"Miglinieks is an outstanding player, and he controlled the game," Fullerton Coach Bob Hawking said. "His play and the way they controlled the boards was the big difference between the two teams. It was a quick whistle tonight, and that was to his advantage. But they were very effective on the glass."
The Irvine rebounding advantage was 39-35, but the Anteaters also shot 54.5% from the floor and made 27 of 39 free throws. Fullerton hit 46.2% from the field but made only 17 of 30 at the free-throw line.
Chuck Overton led the Titans with a career-high 26 points, hitting 10 of 15 from the floor. Center Winston Peterson matched his 17-point average, but the Titans had trouble getting him the ball inside in the second half.
"That may have been Chuck's best outing of the year," Hawking said, "and Winston played well."
The Titans got off to a good start, leading, 15-8, on strong early inside play by Peterson and Overton. But at that point, Chris Dade missed two free throws, and Irvine took the lead for the first time, 19-18, with 11 minutes left in the first half.
The Anteaters went on a 10-0 surge with Zuri Williams and Simmons each getting two baskets to build a 33-24 lead before Peterson's hook stopped the Irvine flurry.
Fullerton battled back late in the first half, but Irvine managed a 42-40 halftime lead. The score was tied at 68 with 8 1/2 minutes left, but strong play by Miglinieks carried the Anteaters down the stretch.
"We would have loved to have won this game," Hawking said. "We'll just have to try to execute better the next time we play them. That and try to hang with them on the boards. We had severe foul problems in this game and that certainly didn't help us this time either."
It was Irvine's third consecutive victory in Titan Gym and the seventh in the last nine trips to Fullerton.