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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1995-96 : UCI Crashes N.Y. Party : Anteaters: They surprise St. John’s, 83-77, to win Joe Lapchick Memorial Tournament.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frank Sinatra’s voice reverberated through St. John’s Alumni Hall on Saturday as the UC Irvine Anteaters celebrated their way to the locker room believing every word of New York’s unofficial anthem.

If they could make here, they could make it anywhere.

The Anteaters had just fulfilled their impossible dream, beating host St. John’s, 83-77, to win the Joe Lapchick Memorial Tournament. It was the first time in 21 years the Red Storm had not won the title, snapping St. John’s 41-game winning streak in the tournament.

“This is the one thing you always want to have for your program,” Coach Rod Baker said. “It takes us to a different level, not only in other people’s eyes but in our own eyes. Now we know we have a chance to beat pretty good teams.

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“The biggest thing is that no one had ever done it before. Sure, it’s New York, but whether you accomplish something like that in Chicago or Starkville, Miss., to do something no one has ever done before is always very big.”

Certainly, it’s the biggest thing that has happened to the Anteaters since they upset seventh-ranked Nevada Las Vegas during the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament in the 1987-88 season, which is also the last season they got off to a 2-0 start.

The Red Storm (1-1) had a 39-33 halftime advantage, largely because they made 19 of 21 first-half free throws and forward Zendon Hamilton already had 14 rebounds and 14 of his game-high 26 points. And they led by eight points with 13 minutes 49 seconds to play when Felipe Lopez, who finished with 24 points, scored to put St. John’s ahead, 53-45.

But Irvine point guard Raimonds Miglinieks, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, hit a three-pointer and then was fouled hard on a drive to the basket. He got into a shoving match with St. John’s Derek Brown and both players got technical fouls, but the Anteaters seemed to get an emotional boost.

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The Anteaters tied the score on a 10-foot jumper by Brooklyn native Kevin Simmons, who had been recruited by St. John’s. Then sophomore guard Brian Keefe hit a pair of three-pointers and a driving layup to put Irvine up, 71- 64, with 3:58 to play.

Irvine went into a full-court press that St. John’s Coach Brian Mahoney said “definitely caused some confusion for us,” and the Anteaters made 10 of 12 free throws in the final two minutes.

“We turned up the pressure on defense and that caused them some real problems,” said Simmons, who rebounded from a shaky first game against Siena to lead the Anteaters with 24 points and nine rebounds.

All four of Irvine’s post players--Dan Augulis, Shaun Battle, Michael Tate and Paul Foster--had three fouls with more than 18 minutes left in the game, but they managed to hold Hamilton to only four second-half rebounds. Irvine ended up with a 39-37 advantage on the boards.

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“I think the key was that everybody did their part,” said Miglinieks, who had 16 points and eight assists.

The Anteater guards were a combined three of 13 from the floor in the first half, but Keefe, who scored 19 points, made six of eight second-half shots as Irvine shot 52% from the floor after a 35% first-half performance.

“We managed to speed up the game and cause some fatigue mistakes,” Baker said, “but this was one of those games that could have gone either way. If they make a couple of those threes down the stretch and we make a couple of turnovers, who knows?

“But we made the key threes and our free throws and got some big rebounds. I’ve been on the other side of it and I’m sure I’ll be on the other side of it again. The thing is, good teams make the plays at the end and now we know we’re good enough to do it and to do it against a really good team.”

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