Cougs defeat UC Irvine 77-66 despite slow start

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    BY CLAIRISSA PETT

    Apparently no one checked the BYU men’s basketball team for Y2K compliance.

    It took an entire half for the experts to figure it out, but eventually the bugs were worked out and BYU came from behind to secure its best start in 20 years with a 77-66 victory over UC Irvine Wednesday at the Marriott Center.

    The Cougars have reached the 10-2 plateau only three times since 1980, with the most recent coming in the 1991-92 season.

    But it didn’t come without some initial trauma. BYU trailed by as much as 13 points in the first four minutes of the game. Four early turnovers put the Cougars in a 1-14 hole, while the Anteaters (6-4) hit their first six straight shots.

    “That’s about how we started the game against them last year,” head coach Steve Cleveland said.

    In the first minutes of the game, it appeared BYU was headed down the same road it took last season when a struggling Irvine team upset the Cougars 82-75 in California.

    “Last year’s game at Irvine was one of the most disappointing games I’ve had,” Cleveland said in a press release. “We never got things going.”

    Fortunately, the Cougars found the spark plug they lacked in their last meeting with the Anteaters.

    Mekeli Wesley drained a pair of free throws and a layup at 3:08 to put BYU within five – its closest margin to that point. With a minute left in the first half, Michael Vranes hit a layup of his own to pull the Cougars to within two, 27-29.

    UCI held a controversial 31-29 lead at the half. Irvine’s Greg Ethington got away with an apparent charge and scored on a last minute outside jumper.

    Despite playing with a majority of its starting lineup sick, BYU managed to tie the game six times in the second half before pulling ahead for good. Silester Rivers, Terrell Lyday and Wesley are all fighting the flu, which affected the play of the team, Cleveland said.

    “We have a house full of flu,” he said. “You could tell we had no energy out there … no legs. We had to scratch and claw for everything.”

    After Irvine tied the game at 46, Lyday scored BYU’s next four baskets, including a pair of threes. Lyday’s 10-point tear was capped by a breakaway layup by Cooper to give the Cougars a nine-point lead in less than two minutes.

    “(Lyday) is the one who’s always hitting the shots to put us ahead,” Cooper said.

    Lyday finished the night with a game-high 22 points followed by Wesley with 18. Cooper and Vranes also recorded double digits with 14 and 11 points, respectively.

    COUGAR NOTES: During the winter break, the Cougars were far from hibernation. Morgan Smith, a 6-foot-5 freshman, decided to transfer from BYU to Utah Valley State College Tuesday.

    “Morgan felt it was in his best interest to have a chance to play and develop his game at the community college level,” Cleveland said.

    The reserve guard played 13 minutes in five games and averaged 1.2 points per game.

    Trent Whiting, a former University of Utah player, transferred to BYU this week. Whiting will lose a year of eligibility due to conference regulations and will begin his senior season with the Cougars next December as a walk-on.

    Forward Eric Nielsen was married to former BYU women’s volleyball star Anna-Lena Smith Dec. 30. Nielsen started in Wednesday’s game to replace Rivers who was sick with the flu. Rivers missed the last two team practices and has been playing in a reserve role.

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