Hats off to you Anteater faithful. You played a large role in the UC Irvine men’s basketball team’s 75-53 dismantling of Big West Conference leader Cal State Northridge in front of a national television audience.
It has become obvious that the team plays best when the crowd comes out. They nearly defeated Pac-10 foe Oregon at home on Duck Roast night, and almost prevailed after being down 18 points against UC Davis in front of another large crowd at the Bren when the game was covered by Fox Sports Net. This time the team didn’t mess around, because they never gave the Matadors a chance.
The Anteaters jumped to a huge 41-25 lead at halftime, and the crowd never let up. It was Brett Lauer’s five for five 3-point shooting and overwhelming Anteater defense that took care of CSUN on the court, but it was the Blackout that blinded the Matadors.
Kudos to the UCI Athletics Department for organizing and marketing the event. The marketing team was out on Ring Road every day selling ‘Eater Nation shirts and passing out flyers. Their work got the whole school buzzing. Even Chancellor Drake sent out e-mails urging everyone to attend the event.
Getting the Greek system involved was also a tremendous idea. You sometimes see more spectators at fraternity sporting events than UCI events. They have the pride and energy to cheer for their brothers and sisters on the gridiron. It was genius to bring their wild and enthusiastic personalities together in a collective effort to root for their school.
This event goes to show that the next best thing to bringing the crowd is good marketing.
The logic behind holding a “Blackout” night on a night when we were playing a team whose school colors are black and red (their jerseys were predominantly black) seemed a bit off at first. Nevertheless, it was the experience created that was of utmost importance at hand. It was a bold but courageous move for UCI to choose an opponent with the same colored uniforms as our theme night. Fresno State hosted a blackout night, and its colors aren’t even black. The organizers were surely banking on the experience that the blackout would create, and they were right.
The 3,450 people in attendance, a majority of whom were students clad in black, kept a high energy throughout the game and the team gave them plenty to cheer about. There was no doubt the crowd fed off the game, and the players fed off the crowd. Freshman Eric Wise took over the second half by scoring 18 of his 20 points in the half. CSUN simply looked helpless.
Playing in front of hostile crowds, home or away, has been a driving factor for UCI teams. The men’s basketball team’s best three performances happened in front of hostile crowds at the Bren.
The men’s soccer team dominated rival and perennial powerhouse UC Santa Barbara in Goleta and here at home, including a 4-2 Big West Tournament final match-up. They even dominated a St. John’s team in front of a heavy crowd in Queens, NY, but the soccer gods turned against them and they fell 3-2.
Men’s volleyball has put volleyball on the map here with its consistent performances and outstanding success. They relish going to places like Brigham Young University, where they pack their arenas with raucous crowds who are so enthusiastic about volleyball that the players think they are in Europe.
The greatest example of UCI teams responding to hostile crowds with their best play is the baseball team. They seem to turn into a different team when they have 3,000-plus fans hating on them. They showed it in their 2007 College World Series run, and last season’s Super Regional run. If we pack the Anteater Ballpark, they just might go undefeated.
Home court advantage is not a myth. It is present in the professional ranks, but even more so in college. College is where boys turn into men, and girls to women. Players are easily affected by their surroundings. It is the first time they are exposed to large hostile crowds, and they can really feed off it positively or negatively. You see the best players crack under pressure in the final minutes of March Madness games, and the greats separate themselves by rising up.
You create that pressure, and you can dictate where that pressure is administered. Whether it is the sixth man, the 12th man, or the seventh man, the fans have a place on the team. And that place could make or break a game.
Filed Under: Sports