The Anteaters defeated the Aggies of Utah State 70-51 at the Bren Events Center on Saturday night. This was the first home game held at the Bren since its renovation. This also marked the return of senior forward Darren Fells after his suspension. It seemed that everyone who suited up for the Anteaters played well. UC Irvine was led in scoring by junior forward Kevin Bland with 15 points and junior guard Brett Lauer and senior guard Chuma Awaji with 14 points apiece.
The Anteaters started the game with a great deal of energy but fell behind Utah State 22-12 following a 10-0 run by the opposition. The Anteaters showed their determination by responding with a 14-0 run of their own, which was highlighted by key scores from Lauer, Bland and Awaji. The run propelled UCI to a 10-point halftime lead with a score of 35-25.
The first half was full of back-and-forth action. The second half was different as UCI systematically stretched the lead to over 20 points and ended the game with a 19-point victory.
In the post, the Anteaters were up against big bodies as they had been against Nevada. With the return of Fells, great play on both ends of the court by Bland and always-steady, hard-nosed play by junior forward Adam Rodenberg, UCI had depth and quality to combat the perceived disadvantage in size.
UCI defined consistency, shooting 13-28 in the first half from the field, (46.4 percent), 13-27 in the second half (48.1 percent) and 47.3 percent overall. The Anteaters scored 35 points in each half.
Showing the hallmark of a well-coached team, the Anteaters did not complain when the officiating seemed suspect or one-sided. Instead they remained composed and adapted to the style of officiating.
In a physical game, the Anteaters proved that they were not willing to back down. Whether it was Bland putting up 15 points, eight rebounds and five steals, Lauer being everywhere on defense and netting 14 points in 20 minutes of play, reserve junior guard Trey Harris running the offense off the bench, or Awaji netting more points than minutes played (14 to 13), everyone played a part in the victory.
After the game, Coach Pat Douglass stated, ‘After we got down 11, I thought we showed a lot of heart. I thought we played with great effort and enthusiasm.’ He mentioned the good job done by Awaji and Lauer. Douglass described the game as ‘a good overall win.’
Lauer stated that ‘it was a great team win.’ He and Bland emphasized ‘sustaining a level of play for 40 minutes’ and ‘executing and being patient on offense and playing every possession’ as reasons for success against Utah State.
The reported attendance was 1,906. If you want to support the Anteaters, look for the UCI men’s basketball team to compete in the first Anaheim Classic next week at the Anaheim Convention Center. Games will be nationally televised on the ESPN U channel.
UCI’s first game against Mississippi State will be held on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22 at 11 a.m. All 12 tournament games will be televised on ESPN 2 or ESPNU. The tournament concludes on Sunday, Nov. 25.
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