Irvine inspiration missing but Rebels win with ease

IRVINE, Calif. ----Star Trek’s Mr. Scott would have a hard time finding warp speed for the UNLV Rebels.

Certainly coach Jerry Tarkanian couldn’t get them into any kind of flow Thursday night against the worst squad in UC Irvine history. As Anteater Coach Bill Mulligan put it, “We bring the worst out of everybody.”

Still, there are many teams across the country that would like to have an off night and still win 99-77. And that’s just what the fourth-ranked Rebels did before 5,000 in the Bren Events Center en-route to capturing their ninth victory in a row and 20th out of their last 22.

“We didn’t play with a lot of enthusiasm,” Tarkanian said after the game for what was believed to be an early Friday meeting to settle his 13-year lawsuit against the NCAA. “We were very flat and lethargic. I tried to get then up for it, and we played well in spurts.”

“That one spurt right before halftime (17-2 over the last five minutes), and that other one in the second (14-0 over a three-minute span) we played pretty well. When Jeff Herdman came in and hit a three-pointer, I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ I didn’t want to lose (99-98) like last year.”

But there would be no heroics for the Anteaters this time around. Herdman didn’t hit 10 three-pointers and Anderson Hunt didn’t drive in for an uncontested layup at the buzzer after being down three.

“What shot you talking about?” Hunt joked in the locker room after the contest. The sophomore off-guard finished with a game high 25-points. “We had a hard time getting into the flow because we kept changing so much.”

“First we’re in a man. Then we go to the zone. Then we play our 25 (position defense). I’m playing the point, then I’m back at the off-guard it was tough to get anything going. But we won. And that’s what counts the most.”

The victory lifted UNLV to 23-4 on the season and 14-1 in the Big West Conference. The Rebels still hold a one-game lead over New Mexico State in the league chase. UC Irvine fell to 3-21 overall and 1-14 in conference. The 21 losses are the most in Irvine history.

Mulligan played three freshmen and two sophomores for most of the evening. Although the anteaters had their chances, they had a difficult time sustaining anything. They turned the ball over 25 times (19 in the first half) and just couldn’t match up against Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and David Butler down low.

Johnson hit 10 of 13 from the field to finish with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Butler added 20 points and four blocked shots, while Augmon had the best all-around game with 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, five blocked shots and six steals.

“If there’s a better team in the country,” Mulligan began, “I don’t want to play them. We tried to play their big guys in a man and they killed us inside. We then went to a zone, and Anderson Hunt just chops you up.

“There isn’t a team in our conference that can stay with them. You saw what UNLV did to Arizona on Sunday. I felt they completely dominated them and then they (Arizona) come out and tore up California on Wednesday night. This is the best team Tark has ever had.”

The Rebels shot 52 percent from the field while limiting the Anteaters to 41 percent. Butler, Augmon and Johnson were a combined 23 of 26. And that figure gets even better when you removed the three missed shots for the land of the treys by Johnson (two) and Augmon.

Greg Anthony was in foul trouble most of the evening and things didn’t go as well offensively with him on the bench. He hit only 4 of 12 from the field but still had 10 assists and five steals. The junior also finished in double figures with 11 to round out the UNLV attack.

“We didn’t really have a hard time getting it going,” Johnson said. “We came to play. I thought when we got our running game going that we took it to them pretty good. We had a couple of good runs that I thought made the difference.”

Irvine had drawn even at 32-32 with a little more than five minutes remaining in the half. But in just 81 seconds the Rebels scored 11 unanswered points, forcing Mulligan to call timeout.

The Anteaters managed to score one bucket before UNLV ran off another six points to take a 49-35-halftime lead. Irvine cut it a 49-35 halftime lead. Irvine cut it to nine (78-69) at the 7:10 mark before UNLV ran off another 14 straight points to secure the win.

“You couldn’t let your guard down for a minute,” Jeff Von Lutzow said. He paced the Irvine attack with 22 points. “I’d think we were getting close, and then they’d run away from us again. It was a good learning experience. Larry Johnson is a great player.”

Senior Ricky Butler had an excellent game for the Anteaters. He hit 8 for 8 from the field to finish with 20 points and eight rebounds. Surprisingly, the Anteaters outrebounded UNLV 45-39. But it didn’t matter.

Freshman guard Dylan Rigdon finished with 19 points and eight assists to round out the Irvine attack.

“That freshman they had at guard is going to be great one day,” Tarkanian said.

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