The UC Irvine men’s basketball team split its two games on their home stand, easily defeating the slumping UC Riverside Highlanders 64-48 on Jan. 18 and losing a heartbreaker against the Cal State Fullerton Titans 71-68 on Jan. 20.
Against the Highlanders, the Anteaters played a terrific inside-out game which opened up many shots for players both in the paint and on the perimeter.
The Highlanders entered the game with a 13 game losing streak and the Anteaters made sure that the streak would not be broken against them.
The game opened with the Anteaters scoring the game’s first 10 points and shutting out the Highlanders for the first five minutes of the game. The Anteaters played terrific man-to-man defense which flustered the Highlanders’ offense throughout the course of the game.
‘I thought we came out with a pretty focused effort defensively,’ said Head Coach Pat Douglass. ‘We were especially in the first half and that helped carry over into the second.’
The Anteaters took advantage of their size over the Highlanders early in the game as junior center Darren Fells muscled his way into the lane and kicked the ball out to teammates for open shots.
‘They were a small lineup,’ Douglass said. ‘We wanted to go inside a little bit and it helped having shooters on the outside.’
Sophomore forward Adam Templeton was the main recipient of the interior’s kick out passes as he hit three three-pointers in the first half en route to a game-high 11 points. Templeton’s three-pointers would set the tone for the remainder of the game as the Highlanders had no answer for the Anteaters’ aggressive play.
‘We knew coming into this game we had to play quicker,’ Templeton said. ‘We just played with a lot of energy and communicated at the right level. We played really well as a team tonight.’
Led by freshman guard Michael Hunter, the Anteater offense exploded in the second half. Hunter’s three-pointer to open the half would be the first of many baskets that ballooned the Anteaters’ lead to as many as 29 points. Hunter matched Templeton’s game-high 11 points and used his quickness to continuously break the Highlanders’ full-court press.
‘I’m getting a lot of confidence,’ Hunter said. I’ve gotten all my jitters out and right now I’m feeling pretty good about our situation,’ Hunter said. ‘I’m confident with [the big guys]. We’ve been looking to get it inside. When we get it inside, good things happen.’ UCI’s front court dominated the Highlanders on the glass as they outplayed the opposing front court. Fells finished with a game-high 10 rebounds and the Anteaters out-rebounded the Highlanders 39-26.
Junior guards Marcus McIntosh an Chuma Awaji combined for 15 of the team’s 19 bench points. Junior forward Patrick Sanders, contributed eight points and four rebounds
On Jan. 20, the Anteaters (9-11, 3-3) were unable to continue their winning streak as they lost on a last-second shot by Cal State Fullerton’s Frank Robinson.
After trailing by 11 points with three minutes left in the game, the Anteaters mounted a furious rally and eventually tied the game at 68 when Awaji converted on a lay-up with 14.5 seconds remaining.
Holding for the last shot of the game on the ensuing possession, Titans’ guard Bobby Brown found Robinson behind the three point line. Robinson knocked down the game winning three-point basket with 1 second left on the game clock, guiding the Titans to victory.
Irvine will next take on rivals Long Beach State on Jan. 25 at the Bren Center.
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