From the looks of the Anteaters’ early portion of league play, it might as well be a foretaste of the type of fight the Anteaters will swallow this season in Big West Conference play.
For one, last Monday night.
In an early-season conference heavyweight bout, UC Santa Barbara showed up at the Bren Events Center carrying with them the title of preseason conference favorites and last season’s league player of the year, senior guard Branduinn Fullove.
During a contest marred by 59 fouls, it was Fullove indeed who led his team with 17 points to give the Gauchos an 84-77 victory over the UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team before an announced crowd of 2,306 on Jan. 5.
The defeat was UCI’s fourth consecutive loss to UCSB as the Gauchos improved to 7-4 and the Anteaters fell to 6-5 overall. Each team equaled their conference records to 1-1.
On a night when UCSB exposed UCI’s youthful guard corps, the Anteaters lost only their seventh game in the Bren Center in their last 46 home games.
‘[UCSB] has some seasoned players and they won the league last year so I knew that we would get their best look,’ said Head Coach Pat Douglass. ‘But because of our inexperience, we just couldn’t get the stops when we needed them.’
The Gauchos reaped success from three-point land all night, as UCSB shot 50 percent from behind the arc with an 8-for-16 overall mark, including a 6-for-11 effort in the first half.
‘We didn’t execute what we were supposed to do,’ said sophomore guard Mike Efevberha. ‘Our tempo was lower than theirs and our defensive intensity wasn’t really there in the first half.’
For the most part, the Gauchos held onto the lead throughout the game. UCI would grab their last lead of the contest when Efevberha connected on a three-point shot with 2:25 remaining in the first half to give the Anteaters a 34-32 cushion. The Gauchos would respond with two three-pointers to give them a 38-36 halftime lead.
Efevberha finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-for-16 shooting, including a 4-for-7 showing from three-point land. He leads UCI in scoring, averaging 13.5 points on the season.
But despite Efeverha’s scoring outburst, the Gauchos managed to keep their lead intact, holding off several Anteater rallies late in the game, the last being a three-point trey by Efevberha with 38 seconds left in the game to slice UCSB’s lead to 79-75.
‘The game would get tight and [UCSB’s] experience and a couple of their key players would make some key buckets,’ Douglass said. ‘There were just some possessions where we couldn’t stop them and that’s inexperience.’
Fullove would convert two free throws with eight seconds left in the game to clinch the win for UCSB and cap a half of play where UCI never led.
‘We always just seemed to have our backs against the wall in the second half,’ Efevberha said.
Senior center Adam Parada recorded 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots in the loss.
Senior forward Stanislav Zuzak and sophomore guard Jeff Gloger scored 10 points apiece. Gloger also recorded seven rebounds, two steals and a career-high nine assists. Freshman forward Nic Campbell tallied seven points to round out UCI’s top scorers.
Sophomore guard Cecil Brown scored 15 points off the bench for the Gauchos.
With league play in full swing, Douglass can do nothing but hope that his team will gain more court experience on a game-by-game basis.
‘We just don’t have the game toughness right now to play for 40 minutes,’ Douglass said. ‘I’m hoping as we get into league, 6-8 games in, we’ll have more flow in the game. There’s not going to be an easy game but I think we’re getting better.’
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