Would you really believe it if I said the Bren Events Center was going bonkers last Wednesday, Jan. 4 when the UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team went heads up against UC Davis? I didn’t think so. The crowd gathered to watch what could have been a momentum-changing game for UCI, who has lost its last five straight and last 7-of-8. But it wasn’t to be as the Aggies stole the fourth quarter lead and ran back to their farm with a 66-63 win.
UC Davis (3-9) guard Rommel Marentez hit back-to-back baskets with 4:42 and 4:22 remaining in the game and forward Thomas Juillerat sank a pair of free throws with 2:15 left as UC Davis quickly turned a 59-54 deficit into a 60-59 lead. A layup by guard Vince Oliver with 1:43 left padded the lead to 62-59 before UCI (4-7) junior forward Nic Campbell trimmed the lead to 62-61 on a jumper with 1:22 left. Davis then sank some free throws to widen the gap to 65-61.
UCI’s Aaron Fitzgerald was able to hit a jumper with 33 seconds left to cut the deficit to 65-63, but that is the last time UCI would score in the game.
Despite a six-point lead at the half, UCI was unable to hold off the Aggies’ late second-half charge. Davis’ intensity belt was tightened a notch in the second half when Head Coach Gary Stewart received a technical foul for arguing a questionable noncall on a charge. UC Davis’ guard Vince Oliver and senior Phil Rasmussen answered their coach’s call by leading the Aggies to the come-from-behind win. Both scored 15 points and shot a combined 11-for-22 from the floor. Davis finished shooting 21-45 field goals and 9-20 from three.
The Anteaters simply did not come to play during the second half. UCI struggled to adapt to the Aggies’ zone defense, shooting only 30 percent from the field as opposed to their first-half percentage of nearly double that: 58 percent.
‘When the game got physical we just backed off,’ said UC Irvine Head Coach Pat Douglass. ‘Our guys don’t seem to want to fight back sometimes.’
The lack of intensity was clear once Davis took the lead late in the second half and forced UCI to miss pressure shots. The team shot a pathetic 1-for-8 from downtown in the second half and only attempted 14 three-pointers all game.
The first half was well-controlled by the Anteaters with a steady press and a well-crafted defense that changed from man to zone, holding Davis to only 28 points.
Senior guard Aaron Fitzgerald started off with some glitz on a sweet no-look dish to sophomore big-man Darren Fells who went up strong to the basket. Fells finished with 4 points and 12 rebounds. Fitzgerald later showed his vast experience in cow tipping when he left an Aggie udders-up with a crossover that would win him a tic-tac-toe game. Senior center Adam Metelski dominated the paint with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the half. He finished leading Irvine with 17 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in only 21 minutes of playing time off the bench. Douglass recognized Metelski as ‘one of the few players that plays with intensity.’
The Aggies were able to shut down the paint during the second half by double-teaming Metelski and forcing UCI to shoot the three-pointer, something they were clearly incapable of doing in the second half. Irvine finished shooting 22-51 from the field and 4-14 from downtown.
Davis was led by their starting guard tandem of Marentez and Oliver who had 14 and 15 points respectively. Forward Phil Rasmussen also chipped in 15 points for the Aggies.
It wasn’t UCI’s ideal way to enter their conference schedule that continues this week with huge games against Cal State Northridge (5-5) and Pacific (9-4), both home games. With six straight tough losses, one of the men will have to step up in order to reinstall the intensity and passion that the team is lacking.
Metelski said it best during a post game interview: ‘We gotta start winning games.’
The Anteaters’ next game is against Cal State Northridge on Friday at 7 p.m. If you’re like half the other kids in this town with nothing to do on a Friday night, you should get off your desk chair, slip into something a little more comfortable (the color yellow) and make some noise at the Bren to help pump the team up for conference play.