A familiar Anteater sat behind the UC Irvine bench last Saturday night.
Jordan Harris, a first-team all-conference selection last season, stopped by to watch his old teammates in action at the Bren Events Center.
Just a year ago, the Anteaters rode Harris’ grit and leadership to a 20-win season and a second place finish in the Big West Conference.
But oh, how things have changed.
By the time the final buzzer had rung, yet another dark day at the Bren Center was sealed, as the UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team was a 56-51 loser on Feb. 7 in conference action.
On this night, it was Cal State Northridge who extended UCI’s season-high losing streak to five games and sent the sell-out Homecoming crowd of 5,000 home, dejected.
With their latest defeat, the Anteaters dropped to 9-11 overall, 4-7 in conference play.
The difference between this year’s team and last?
‘Honestly, I think the leadership last year was better than it is this year that the senior’s are providing,’ said senior center Adam Parada. ‘And I take blame for that along with the other three seniors. That’s just one of the many facets that we’re not doing right.’
So the Anteaters find themselves in a five-game rut, the longest losing streak since a 14-game string in the 1998-99 season. UCI is now tied in sixth place with Long Beach State in the league standings.
‘Well obviously we’re struggling right now,’ said Head Coach Pat Douglass.
Struggling from the floor is right, as UCI has eclipsed the 40 percent mark only once in the last four games. Against the Matadors (9-10, 5-6 Big West), the Anteaters shot 36.5 percent. CSUN connected on 41.3 percent of their shots.
‘We’re not shooting the ball well right now,’ Douglass said.
UCI actually led at halftime 30-25 before CSUN opened the second half by going on an 8-0 run to give them a 33-30 lead.
‘I think guys are just not coming out ready to play as much as we should be,’ said sophomore guard Mike Efevberha. ‘It seems like every game in the second half we come out flat. We just have to figure out what the problem is.’
Late in the game, the Anteaters came within striking distance of CSUN after the Matadors had built a 46-40 lead with 6:35 left.
Sophomore guard Jeff Gloger drove the lane and passed off to Parada underneath the basket for a dunk to give the Anteaters a 46-42 deficit at the 6:05 mark. Then three minutes later, Parada hit a baby jumper to bring UCI closer, 53-51.
On the ensuing possession, junior center Greg Ethington was fouled and put on the charity stripe with UCI trailing by two. He missed both free throw attempts.
‘Those things hurt but we should have taken care of business earlier so that they wouldn’t have hurt us in the end,’ Efevberha said.
Efevberha and Ethington led UCI with 11 points apiece. Ethington started in place of Parada and recorded seven rebounds in the game.
Parada and sophomore guard Ross Schraeder scored 10 points each.
For the Matadors, junior forward Ian Boylan scored 16 points.
With the season more than halfway through, the Anteaters now go on the road, facing Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 12 and UC Riverside on Feb. 14.
‘We just have to go to practice and work hard. We have to keep up the intensity and stay together,’ Efevberha said. ‘We can’t be negative. We got to stay positive with each other and just encourage each other to get better.’
Added Parada: ‘We’re just in a hole right now and we need to dig ourselves out.’