On Friday night, the Anteaters watched Cal Poly San Luis Obispo move into a tie with them for fifth place in the Big West after the Mustangs pulled off a 57-56.
However, UC Irvine reclaimed sole possession of the fifth spot in the standings after upsetting UC Santa Barbara for the second time this season.
Winning for the third time on the road, the Anteaters improved to 5-5 in Big West competition after Saturday night’s 65-59 victory over the Gauchos, who were 17-5 entering the game.
UCI was led by senior forward Patrick Sanders and senior guard Marcus McIntosh. Sanders, who did not play Friday because of a hyper-extended knee, scored 18, while McIntosh drained a career-high 16.
Senior center Darren Fells had nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds, while freshman guard Patrick Rembert scored a career-high seven points.
At halftime, UCSB led 34-30. Given the misfortune the Anteaters had this season on the road and in the second half, it appeared the chips were certainly stacked against UCI to pull off another upset. Sure enough, the third quarter opened up in favor of the Gauchos, who increased their lead 47-37 with 15:13 remaining. Nevertheless, UCI used the next five minutes to prove they still had UCSB’s number.
The Gauchos regained the lead 52-50 on a lay-up by Chris Devine with 9:03 remaining, but UCI took the lead for good at 54-52 on a pair of free throws by Sanders and a lay-up by McIntosh with 7:17 left.
With the upset victory, Head Coach Pat Douglass tied Bill Mulligan for most wins in Anteater coaching history with 163. Douglass can set the new mark this Thursday night against the number-one team in the conference, the University of Pacific, when the Anteaters host the Tigers at 7:05 at the Bren.
UCI (10-13, 5-5) shot 55 percent from the field in the second half on Saturday night and 47.7 percent for the game. They out-rebounded UCSB 30-27 and made 17 of 22 free throws.
The Gauchos (17-6, 6-4) lost at home for just the third time in 12 games, mainly because of their second-half collapse. They shot 40.4 percent from the field in the game, including 27.3 percent in the second half.
Douglass was most impressed with the cohesiveness that the Anteaters exhibited, along with Sanders’ resilient performance.
“Marcus McIntosh really stepped it up tonight, Darren Fells rebounded strong and it was nice to see Pat [Sanders] come back. His play was a real key for us with some nice passes and finishes,” Douglass said. “Our three seniors really earned this victory and I am happy for them and the team.”
On Jan. 10, the Anteaters managed to defeat the former second-place Gauchos 66-63. UCSB certainly didn’t come into the game expecting a hard fought game for 60 minutes; even still, Douglass believes the Anteaters surprised them in the second half.
“Santa Barbara is an excellent team. We kind of hung around, moved up our intensity and got some defensive stops,” Douglass said. “We kind of sneaked up on them.”
Saturday’s second victory versus UCSB is important not only because of the confidence and momentum it provided for UCI, but because the remainder of the Anteaters’ conference games will be played at home, where UCI is undefeated.
“This is the most significant road win for us this season against a team that is in the upper half of the league. This is a big win for our group,” Douglass added.
Thursday night’s home game match-up versus Pacific will be televised on Fox Sports Net. With a win over the Tigers, UCI will move above .500 in the Big West and remain unbeaten at home this season.