Out of all the scenarios that senior center Greg Ethington and junior guard Aaron Fitzgerald could have come up with regarding their roles in what would be the UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team’s last game of the season, neither one could have predicted the worst-case scenario: Sitting on the bench.
Foul trouble limited their playing time and poor shooting resulted in Cal State Northridge ending the Anteaters’ season on March 10 at the Anaheim Convention Center, 72-56, in quarterfinal play of the Big West Conference tournament.
UCI advanced to the quarterfinals after defeating Idaho 80-67 in first-round action the night before. Fitzgerald scored a career-high 30 points in that contest and freshman forward Darren Fells notched a double-double, but CSUN’s pressure zone defense stifled the Anteaters and UCI was subsequently unable to find any offensive rhythm.
On the first possession of the game, Ethington caught a pass deep in the paint but the ball couldn’t find the bottom of the net on his layup attempt, which would be the first of many frustrating moments.
‘We anticipated they would use the one-three-one press that they’ve used all year,’ said UCI junior forward Jeff Gloger. ‘We did a good job preparing for it this time around and we got the ball in the paint, which was the plan. The problem was that we didn’t convert when we got there’
Still, UCI Head Coach Pat Douglass thought his team put up a good effort.
‘I was proud of our effort, but take your hats off for Northridge,’ Douglass said. ‘They do what they do well, in regards to their pressure and creating transitions.’
Within the first five minutes, the Matadors raced out to a 10-point lead while the Anteaters fought back with their starting center on the sidelines. Ethington picked up two quick fouls in the first five minutes of the game. Not having Ethington on the floor hurt UCI.
‘We really depended on Ethington a lot. He’s been an integral part of what we’ve been doing offensively,’ Douglass said. ‘But we couldn’t get him in good position to convert inside tonight.’
Despite the slow start, the Anteaters fought back and used a 17-7 run to catch the Matadors at 23-23 with seven minutes in the first half, which was capped by a 24-foot three-point shot from junior guard Ross Schraeder.
However, UCI went cold in the last minutes and CSUN closed out the first half strong with a five- point surge and an important three-pointer from their senior guard Joseph Frazier.
The Matadors jumped out at the start of the second half and extended their lead to 10 while Fitzgerald picked up his fourth foul with 15 minutes left in the game, leaving Gloger to take over as point guard.
‘Foul trouble affected us a bit,’ Douglass said. ‘Fitzgerald is one of our primary ballhandlers and he had an excellent game against Idaho but never got on track tonight.’
With Gloger at the point and UCI trailing 38-48, UCI went on a 7-2 run to cut the lead in half with 10 minutes left, but the Matadors never let UCI get any closer.
Gloger led the Anteaters with 14 points and eight rebounds while Schraeder also scored 14 points. CSUN’s Frazier led three Matadors into double-digit scoring with a game-high 18 points.
‘We didn’t convert some easy things inside,’ Schraeder said. ‘There were some little things, like [we] didn’t get a rebound here and there. In a six- or eight-point game, those are big possessions.’
UCI finished the season 16-13, giving the Anteaters their fourth winning season in the last five years. However, against the top four teams in the Big West, including Pacific, Utah State, Cal State Fullerton and CSUN, UCI’s record was only 1-7.
‘We did not fare well among the top four teams in the league,’ Douglass admitted. ‘But that’s to be expected with a young team and new faces. We took a step this season, and hopefully we can continue to take another step next season and get a bye into the conference tournament.’
However, with a team that included seven new players, Douglass was proud of his team’s effort.
‘Out of any of the groups I’ve ever had, I thought this group prepared to play consistently [in] more ball games than most teams I’ve coached,’ Douglass said.
But with only Ethington leaving, the core of the team will remain intact and they will aim to finish among the top four teams in the league.
‘The only person we’re losing is Ethington, so we can use this season as a springboard and learn from that and come back next year,’ Schraeder said.
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