The UCI men’s basketball team officially kicked off their 2009-10 season by destroying the University of La Verne Leopards in front of a home crowd of 1,948 patrons on Friday night. The Anteaters led from start to finish and never saw its lead shrink below six points. The final score of the game between two teams who have not faced each other since 1968 was 82-54.
A large and noisy Anteater student section proudly displayed their new dark blue ‘Eater Nation shirts and the men’s basketball team, not wanting to be out-done, showed off their new gold home jerseys.
The game started off in Irvine’s favor and stayed there the whole night. Senior guard Michael Hunter and junior guard Darren Moore attacked the La Verne hoop early and often. Each player took turns driving to the hole and getting lay-ups or shooting free throws. A minute and 31 seconds into the game, new player, junior Pavol Losonsky, found senior Zack Atkinson, who threw down a tomahawk-like one-handed jam that got the crowd to their feet. Sophomore great, Eric Wise, got in on the giving act and served up an alley-oop pass that Atkinson emphatically slammed down with two hands.
The Anteater defense played like they were possessed and really locked down the Leopards for a large part of the game. As a matter of fact, La Verne did not score until the 16:12 mark of the first half. Irvine found itself up 19-5 with just six and a half minutes gone by. La Verne would not go down without a fight, at least not early on. They went on a 9-0 run that cut the UCI lead to six points. Losonsky and freshman Mike Wilder kick-started the offense once again and pushed the lead back up to 15 points. The UCI defense also caught fire again and held La Verne scoreless in the final two minutes of the half. UCI lead 35 to 20 at halftime.
The first half saw UCI force 13 turnovers and seven steals. They also dominated the paint by outscoring La Verne 18-6. It was very noticeable how Coach Pat Douglass, in his 13th season at the helm of the Anteaters, continued to substitute players and tinker with different line-ups.
The good times kept on rolling for UCI in the second half as they continued to build on their lead. Losonsky proved to be a low-post threat as he continued to work in the paint and connect on most of his hook shots. UCI built a lead of 33 points in the second half, their biggest of the game. The latter stages of the game saw both teams play most of their benches and the UCI bench kept up the lead and even improved it. The Anteaters dropped an impressive 47 points in the second half.
Everyone who suited up for UC Irvine played in the game. Hunter led all scores with 14 for the game. Both Losonsky and guard Moore had 12 points and Wise chipped in with 10. Atkinson had three dramatic blocked shots. UCI shot a 47.4 percent clip from the field and made 75.8 percent of its free throws.
After the game, Coach Douglass was pleased with the performances of his team.
“We are just trying to get them some seasoning and to be successful,” Douglass said. “Having good-sized players is one of our strengths and the home crowd was a big asset for us tonight. I think we will be an explosive team this season that gets up and down the court.”
Wise also commented on the team effort after the game.
“Everyone got in and got a chance to play. We have to rebound better and take smarter shots and be patient,” Wise said.
Junior guard Patrick Rembert spoke of the younger players stepping up.
“It was a great to get a look at everyone. We have a real good team with experience and young guys,” Rembert said. “[The younger players] are learning on the fly and they don’t get intimidated.”
Wilder talked about his first collegiate game.
“It felt really exciting to play that many minutes. My teammates really picked me up,” Wilder said.
UC Irvine 42, Texas 89
UC Irvine’s competition on Sunday, Nov. 15 could not have been any more different than their previous opponent. After easily dispatching Division III La Verne, UCI had to travel to Austin, Texas to face the No. 3 ranked Texas Longhorns.
Facing a team brimming with athleticism and NBA prospects, UCI managed to start off well, capitalizing on a few bad Texas passes to go ahead 6-0. UCI hung tight in the first 10 minutes, taking leads of 15-10 and 19-18. Senior Zack Atkinson led ’Eater scorers with 10 points, while guards Moore and Hunter chipped in with six points a piece. However, the Longhorns then showed why they are ranked third in the nation and went on a 21-0 run to lead UCI 39-19.
“That was quite a drought we endured in the first half,” Head Coach Pat Douglass said. “We got into a situation where different players were trying to get us back into the game on their own and we got out of rhythm.”
The second half became an obnoxious dunk fest as the Longhorn players showed their superior athleticism and agility. Senior Damion James had a double-double with 21 points and 15 rebounds, while senior center Dexter Pittman shot 10-11 from the field for 21 points. The Anteaters clearly had no answer for the big center, as he chipped in three blocks and numerous dunks as well.
Sophomore guard Derrick Strings was a lone bright spot for UCI in the second half with five points in seven minutes.
Next, UCI will finally face a team closer to their own level, traveling to Loyola Marymount University for a Wednesday, Nov. 18 game telecast on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.
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