UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : Anteaters Take the Big Apple by Storm
If you thought UC Irvine’s victory over St. John’s in the Joe Lapchick tournament Saturday had a big impact in Orange County, you should have seen the bite it took out of the Big Apple.
“SHOCKER,” screamed the headline topping the Daily News sports coverage on the tabloid’s back page. The subhead read: “St. John’s was the only champion the 20-year-old Lapchick tourney ever knew, but Cal-Irvine embarrassed the Red Storm yesterday, 83-77, to take the crown.”
How humiliating was it to New Yorkers to have their cherished Red Storm lose at home to a team from an obscure California school? Check out the first sentence of sportswriter D.L. Cummings’ game story: “Perhaps the only thing left for [Coach] Brian Mahoney to do at St. John’s is get fired.”
Irvine captain Brian Keefe, from Winchester, Mass., obviously knew what he was talking about seconds before he and Coach Rod Baker were called to center court to accept the tournament trophy. “New York is a very good place to win,” he said, smiling. “Media capital of the world. This is a big deal, a very big deal.”
Baker’s children, his best friends and their kids were all on the Irvine bench for the game. The presence of family and lifelong friends helped make the victory “very satisfying.”
“I remember my first Big East game [as an assistant at Seton Hall] in that gym,” Baker said. “I’ve got the ESPN tape somewhere in my desk. They had some graphic about how St. John’s hadn’t lost there since Ty Cobb or something and we beat them.
“Winning in a familiar place like that, in New York with all your friends and family, it’s special.”
They used to smirk and refer to the tourney as the Lapdog Tournament, “a no-sweat way for St. John’s to come out of the gate 2-0,” according to Daily News columnist Mike Lupica.
Somebody made a scheduling faux pas. The Anteaters turned out to be pit bulls.
Voice of reason? Amid the hysteria over the Red Storm’s loss, Lupica did point out that “St. John’s season does not suddenly become a disaster because of a loss at home in November to Cal-Irvine’s Anteaters, a talented team with a good coach.”
Attention grabber: As is so often the case, Michael Tate became the most-hated Anteater in a hurry Saturday. The crowd in Alumni Hall was screaming at the Irvine forward when he committed a foul and Tate, bending over as he stood with his back to the student section while awaiting the free throws, made sure to rub his hands over his backside a number of times.
They were sweaty and it was merely a convenient way to dry them off, of course.
That did it. From that point on, the fans concentrated their verbal barrage on Tate, whether he was on the court or off.
“I love that, man,” Tate said, beaming. “That just gets me going. All they did was help us win.”
Tate’s 10-point, four-rebound effort may have been overshadowed by others--Kevin Simmons had 24 points and nine rebounds, Keefe had 19 points and Raimonds Miglinieks had 16 points and eight assists--but it did not go unnoticed by St. John’s Mahoney.
“That kid Tate really hurt us with some key baskets down the stretch,” he said.
Tate stuffed home an offensive rebound that put Irvine ahead, 73-68, with 2 minutes 1 second remaining. And he made a nice move on a drive to the basket, was fouled and made both free throws to give the Anteaters a 75-70 lead with 1:47 left.
“Michael is recognizing the fact that even though he plays like he’s 6-7, 6-8, 6-9, he’s really only 6-2,” Baker said. “What he was trying to do in the off-season was extend his game a little farther away from the basket, so he’s not always trying to bump and grind and then turn around and shoot over somebody who’s a foot taller.”
Let’s get physical: With 12:24 to play, Miglinieks drove the lane and was fouled hard by St. John’s Derek Brown. The Irvine point guard got up and got in Brown’s face, which drew the obligatory mob of players. After a lot of shouting, taunting, pushing and shoving, officials and both head coaches restored order.
Brown and Miglinieks received technical fouls, but the Anteaters outscored the Red Storm, 21-9, in the next 8 1/2 minutes.
“Ray felt he had gotten fouled hard a couple of times,” Baker said. “Derek Brown, I think, was a little frustrated, but Ray isn’t going to back down to anyone.”
A little later, official Tim Higgins leaned over to Baker and said, “It’s a little early for this [stuff]. I didn’t expect to have any Big East games for a while yet.”
No surprise: The first in a long line of NBA scouts was on press row in St. John’s Alumni Hall last weekend to observe and report their opinion on Miglinieks’ professional potential.
Miglinieks, the tournament most valuable player, made most of the right moves and ended up with 43 points and 15 assists in two games.
All-in-all, it was a fairly typical performance. And the reviews were pretty much as expected.
“You have to love the way he sees the court and the way he gets the ball to guys underneath,” Milwaukee Buck scout Scott Wissle said. “He’s got to work on his defense. He’s just quick enough to hold his own on this level. I thought he did a good job on [St. John’s high-scoring sophomore] Felipe Lopez, but the NBA is a whole different level.
“Still, he’s a very impressive passer and overall, I like him.”
The women’s basketball team will be host to the UCI/Marriott Classic Friday and Saturday in the Bren Center. Texas El Paso opens play against the University of Missouri Kansas City at 5 p.m. Friday. The Anteaters, who play at Sacramento State tonight, meet Texas Christian at 7 p.m. The consolation game is at 5 p.m. Saturday with the championship game set for 7 p.m. . . . Irvine’s men’s and women’s swim teams play host to the Speedo Cup Thursday through Saturday at Long Beach’s Belmont Plaza. Fifth-ranked Arizona and No. 10 UCLA lead a contingent of 28 women’s teams. Fifteen men’s teams will compete. . . . Freshman tennis player Leah Fisher has been chosen to compete on the U.S. team for the Pan American Maccabiah Games in Buenos Aires next month. Fisher had Irvine’s best performance in the recent Rolex/Intercollegiate Tennis Assn. Southern California championships, reaching the second round of the main draw. . . . Danielle Hill and Melissa Cutter finished 17th in the U.S./Japan International Goodwill Regatta that concluded Sunday at Newport Beach. Navy won the 36-boat competition.