By James Kim
There was Stanford, fully clad in daunting Cardinal red and donning a skip in its step, beneficiaries as the highest-ranked opponent to visit the Bren Events Center in seven years.
And then there were the Anteaters, pumped with fervor and stirred by a home arena electrified in yellow and gold. Even former UCI basketball superstar Jerry Green was in attendance.
For the UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team, this night had all the makings for a Cinderella ending.
Stanford, though, had other plans in mind.
The Cardinal rode a career-night from guard Chris Hernandez as the sophomore blitzed UC Irvine with 22 points to give 17th-ranked Stanford a 72-59 non-conference victory over the Anteaters on Nov. 25 before a sell-out crowd of 5,000.
‘Hernandez, we were hoping we could help off him a little bit, not thinking he could make the three’s the way he did,’ said Head Coach Pat Douglass. ‘He just lit us up.’
Hernandez missed only one shot during the night, shooting 8-of-9 overall, including a blistering 6-of-7 from three-point land.
But even before Hernandez found his hot hand, his teammates set the tone of the game in the very first four minutes of play, racing out to a 13-1 lead, with two of the baskets coming from dunks by Cardinal junior center Rob Little.
By midway through the first half, Stanford (2-0) had built a 24-5 lead over UCI (2-2) after two three-pointers by Hernandez.
‘They exposed some deficiencies on our side,’ said senior guard Aras Baskauskas. ‘That first run they made, I don’t think we ever recovered from that.’
For the first 10 minutes of the half, Stanford toyed with the Anteaters. But the momentum turned for UCI at the 9:48 mark.
Senior center Adam Parada sparked an 11-1 Anteater run when he connected on a mid-jumper to close the deficit to 26-9. Senior forward Matt Okoro would follow with a three-point play and sophomore guard Ross Schraeder’s three-point bomb from the top of the key drew the Anteaters closer, 27-17.
Parada would bring Irvine as close as they would come for the rest of the night when he hit a fade-away basket from the left baseline to make it 27-19 at the 5:58 mark.
‘[Stanford] just let in a little bit and then they brought the intensity back up,’ Parada said. ‘We couldn’t match it.’
Stanford would outscore the Anteaters 18-6 to close out the half, capped by two more Hernandez three-pointers to up their lead to 46-25.
‘Our discipline on offense and defense wasn’t at the level it takes to play a team of that caliber,’ Douglass said. ‘There was just no flow and purpose in what we were trying to do.’
The Anteater starting backcourt had a rare off-night during the game, as Schraeder and sophomore point guard Jeff Gloger combined to shoot 4-of-15 from the field and 1-of-5 from behind the arc. Baskauskas was 0-for-3 shooting in the game.
‘We knew Schraeder was a good shooter and we didn’t let him have any clean looks,’ said Stanford Head Coach Mike Montgomery. ‘But they have some people who don’t really want to shoot the ball that badly and we were willing to take our chances and see if that would hurt us or not and it didn’t hurt us.’
By halftime, the Cardinal held a 48-25 advantage.
Something that Douglass did not expect from the Cardinal was their willingness to double-team the post, a tactic Stanford was reluctant to do in the teams’ meeting last year at Maples Pavilion.
Douglass noted after the game how Montgomery’s strategy took his team out of rhythm.
‘We didn’t react the way we needed to in the low post,’ Douglass said. ‘We had no flow offensively, as far as taking care of the ball and recognizing that they were doubling the post.’
Parada finished with a team-high 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds in the loss.
Senior forwards Stanislav Zuzak, Okoro and sophomore guard Mike Efevberha scored 10 points apiece.
Redshirt freshman forward Nic Campbell scored four points and grabbed two rebounds in seven minutes of action in his home debut.
For the Cardinal, senior guard Matt Lottich scored 11 points for a team that was missing their best player, junior forward Josh Childress, due to a foot injury.
The game wasn’t a complete loss for the Anteaters though, as the team now has an idea of the level of play they need to achieve if they still want to be playing come March.
‘It’s definitely disappointing, but it’s also a great game for us because now we know how hard to go and what we need to work on,’ Parada said.