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'Eaters' rally unravels late

January 30, 2004

Barry Faulkner

As visiting UC Irvine kept creeping and creeping back into a Big West

Conference men's basketball game it appeared as if it had been blown

out of Thursday night, Utah State senior Spencer Nelson was fighting

a creeping feeling of his own.

"When [the Anteaters] got within three, I actually did think about

it for one second that they have been doing a pretty good job at

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having our number here [at the Smith Spectrum]," Nelson said.

In the end, however, there was no Logan magic this time, as the

Aggies (16-1, 8-0 in conference) held on for a 57-48 triumph before

9,037, most of whom voiced their extreme pleasure at defeating UCI

for the first time in three seasons in their own building.

"They came to play," Utah State Coach Stew Morrill said of the

Anteaters, who saw an early lead evaporate on a 24-2 Aggie run

spanning the end of the first half and the start of the second. "They

were physical and took a lot of things away from us. They dared us to

shoot the ball from the perimeter. We were really tight in the first

half."

The Aggies, who came in leading the nation with a 52.2 field-goal

percentage, shot a season-low 26.7% in the first half (8 for 30).

But, thanks to a 10-0 run the final 4:36 before intermission, they

came out of the halftime locker room with a 22-22 tie, as well as

renewed confidence.

That confidence carried through after UCI's Stanislav Zuzak tossed

in a jump hook, to open the second-half scoring.

Then, Aggie senior guard Cardell Butler, who scored just 13 points

the previous two games to see his team-leading scoring average fall

to 13.4, started another cascade for the hosts.

Butler hit a three-pointer, then converted a traditional

three-point play within a 22-second span to spark a 14-0 surge. He

capped the run with a three-point play on an emphatic dunk that made

it 36-24 Aggies with 14:28 remaining.

That lead expanded to 46-31 with 10:03 left, before Irvine, now

1-5 on the road, rediscovered its offense and made things

interesting.

During the 24-2 Utah State flurry, which spanned 11:08, UCI

struggled to even find quality shots. In one telltale sequence, the

Anteaters followed a 35-second shot clock violation with an errant

25-foot desperation three-point try to avert another shot-clock

turnover.

But sophomore guard Mike Efevberha nudged the visitors back on

track by scoring seven straight Irvine points, then scored again in

the middle of a 6-0 UCI burst that cut the deficit to 46-37 with 7:54

left.

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