UCI vs. UCLA
The UC Irvine men’s basketball team (1-1) has made it known that they are not to be overlooked. After handedly defeating a respected Nevada team on Saturday, the Anteaters made another huge statement on Tuesday by nearly pulling off the biggest upset of the college basketball season thus far in an 80-79 overtime loss to the no. 13 UCLA Bruins (2-0) at the new Pauley Pavilion in LA. In a game where many expected the Bruins to win just by showing up, the Anteaters showed a lot of confidence and maturity going on the road and battling one the nation’s best teams down to the final play of the game. The Anteaters out rebounded the Bruins 55-44, but committed 18 turnovers and missed 12 free-throws.
“I’m proud of my team,” Coach Turner said. “We have a chance to be good. I thought we had a chance to win tonight. We make one more free-throw or more shot, got one more stop and we would have won. There are a lot of things to be proud of.”
Senior Michael Wilder had one of his best career games, carrying the Anteaters late in the game by hitting big shot after big shot — including a span in the second half where he scored 10 consecutive points. He finished the game one point shy of his career high, scoring 23 points and collecting five rebounds on 6-9 shooting from beyond the arc. In a night where fellow senior Daman Starring was limited to nine points on 4-14 shooting by the Bruin defense, Wilder stepped up to the challenge and really put the Anteaters in a position to win.
“I think it came with the game flow,” Wilder said. “Some of the guys that were guarding me were sagging off me or not getting a hand up. Tonight I was letting them fly. I kind of got into the zone, my teammates were finding me and I just found my rhythm.”
The Anteaters had notable effort on offense all night. Will Davis II and Derrick Flowers also had double-figures for the night, scoring 12 and 10 points respectively. Chris McNealy, Alex Young and Mike Best combined for 18 points off the bench. UCLA’s Jordan Adams was the x-factor of the game, coming off the bench and leading the Bruins in scoring with 26 points, including going 16-16 from the line.
For the majority of the first half, the Bruins looked and played like they were the better team. They looked strong, poised and confident, holding the lead in all but 12 seconds of the half. Midway through, it looked as if the Bruins were going to blow the game open and run away with the victory. Shortly after Irvine took a 10-9 lead on a Flowers 3-pointer with 15:39 on the clock, the Bruins outscored the Anteaters 18-5 on their way to a 27-15 advantage. UCLA took a 12-point lead with 5:46 on the clock — its largest of the game. During this period the Anteaters had quality looks at the basket but went ice-cold on the court, shooting a measly 5-25 from the field, digging themselves into a double-digit deficit.
“It was our first road game of the year and we played like it in the first eight minutes,” Turner said. “I told my team before the game that there would be runs in this game. I was hoping we could put the run on them, and they put it on us but we stay tough and hung in there and battled, that’s what you got to do.”
The Anteaters never gave up. They responded by closing the final five minutes of the half on a 19-9 run that cut the Bruin lead from 12 to two. The Anteaters shot six of nine from the field in that span and limited the Bruins to four field goals on 12 attempts on their way to a 36-34 game at intermission. Despite the Anteaters’ shooting woes for the majority of the half, their hustle and work on the boards prevented the Bruins from putting the game out of reach. Irvine out-rebounded UCLA 27 to 22 in the first half, with eight of those coming on the offensive end.
The second half opened up right where the Anteaters left off. A 7-3 run by an energized Irvine team out the gates put them up 43-39 before Coach Ben Howland called a UCLA time out with 16:33 to go. The Bruins responded after the time out with seven unanswered points in one minute of play, regaining a 46-43 lead. Both teams exchanged baskets for the final 15 minutes of the game, with neither team being able to pull ahead by more than five points. In the second period, the two teams accounted for seven ties and 15 lead changes. In other words, the game came down to the wire.
After the Bruins took a 63-61 lead with 4:33 left on the clock, Wilder responded with a three-pointer to put UCI up by one. Adams responded by getting fouled and sinking both free throws at the line, giving UCLA a 65-64 lead with 2:48 to go.
After a few sloppy possessions by both teams, the Anteaters controlled the ball with a little over one minute to go in the game. With Starring in possession of the ball, the Anteaters went with a high pick-n-roll with Wilder and Starring at the top of the key. The Bruin defense rotated out to Starring, who found Young wide open in the corner. Without any hesitation, the young freshman threw up the 3-pointer and hit nothing but net, silencing the UCLA crowd and giving the Anteaters a 67-65 lead with 0:54 seconds to go.
“That was a big shot and we made the right pass to get him that shot, and that’s what I’m most pleased with,” Turner said. “I expect Alex to make that shot, I feel that way about all of our guys that I put on the court.”
With the Anteaters up by two, Irvine ran an in-bounds play and found Wilder in the far corner. With the shot-clock running down, Wilder passed up on the three-pointer and instead chose to drive to the basket looking to dish it to Davis in the paint. UCLA freshman Kyle Anderson deflected the ball in the process and the Bruins wound up with it in transition. Adams was fouled by Starring on the other end and was sent to the free-throw line, where he sank both to tie the game.
“I should have shot it,” Wilder said in hindsight. “Should have shot it.”
“The way the play unfolded, my eyes got big because I thought we had exactly the shot we were looking for from the guy we wanted to have it,” Turner said.
“Then he drove it and tried to pass it, which surprised me. He always makes the right play. I got unselfish guys who make the right plays. We didn’t make the right play but we tried to make the right play. I’ll never question his decision.”
With seven seconds left on the clock, Young got the in-bounds pass off the made free-throw and raced to the basket. When two Bruin defenders collapsed on him, he dished it to an open Davis in the paint, who was hacked by two UCLA defenders in his attempt to lay-in the basket. Davis, a career 59 percent free-throw shooter, stepped to the line as the Pauley Pavilion erupted in noise, and missed both shots, sending the game into overtime.
“I’m pleased with the way Will played. I feel bad for him that he didn’t make those free-throws because some people will focus on that, but I’m proud of the way he stood up there and shot them strong,” Turner said.
“I guess I wasn’t focused,” said Davis. “It was probably the loudest [environment] I’ve ever played in.”
Overtime began just as the game had ended — both teams exchanging baskets and hitting big shots when needed.
Anteater center Adam Folker fouled out at the 2:09 mark, which was huge for UCLA, who didn’t have to deal with Folker on the boards. The score see-sawed up until the 1:56 mark in the game when Starring hit a clutch three to knot the game up at 76 apiece.
In the next Bruin possession, point guard Larry Drew II missed a contested jumper, but the Anteaters failed to box out Anderson, who tipped the ball into the hoop to give the Bruins a 78-76 lead with 0:44 seconds on the clock. Irvine got the ball and took it down the court. Wilder, coming off a screen at the top of the key, caught the ball and quickly raised up to hit another clutch three-pointer for Irvine, putting them up 79-78 with 0:29 seconds.
The Bruins brought the ball up and set up a high pick-n-roll situation for Drew, who faked towards the screen and crossed-over to the other direction, creating enough space to blow by Young and lay it up for the Bruins.
“I made the mistake of not staying in front of my guy,” Young said. “Our goal is to put pressure on the point guard and I didn’t do that.”
With 17 seconds on the clock, Coach Turner opted not to call his final timeout and let the Anteaters bring the ball up. Flowers dribbled to the far side and bounced the ball to Wilder, who took the ball down the middle of the paint and appeared to be fouled as he threw up a shot. No whistle was blown, and the ball was tipped into UCLA’s possession as time expired.
“I got nothing to say [about the foul],” said Coach Turner. “You saw it. You draw your own conclusions. I don’t want to be critical. That’s a tough situation for a referee to be in.
“We had a timeout but I didn’t want to call it. I knew what we wanted and what we got was something good. I didn’t want to allow their defensive to set. They got a defensive team and they would have been able to communicate clearly if we stopped the clock. I liked our chances better if we didn’t allow that and it gave us an opportunity, we didn’t convert it.”
The Anteaters played their hearts out, but the common consensus by UCI players was they needed to move on and get ready for their next game. They understand that they let one slip past them, that they can compete with teams at the highest level, but will use this game as a learning experience moving forward.
UCI vs. Pacifica
It was a historical night at the Bren Events Center on Thursday evening, as the UC Irvine men’s basketball team (2-1) defeated Pacifica University (0-4) by a record margin of 69 points in their 116-47 victory. The last time UCI defeated a team by more than 60 points happened in 2002 when the Anteaters finished with a 21-11 record and made it to the first round of the NIT. The Anteaters also tied a school record for assists in a game with 30, a mark set in 1982 when the Anteaters were ranked as high as 19th in the nation.
It was pad-your-stats night for the Anteaters on Thursday, as six players eclipsed double-digit scoring, including freshman Conor Clifford, who recorded his first collegiate double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Chris McNealy and Alex Young contributed 15 points each in a near-perfect night, combining 10-11 from the field and 7-7 from the free throw line. Young added seven rebounds and six assists. Travis Souza made the most of his playing time, shooting 3-5 from the three and scoring 13 points off the bench to go along with his six rebounds. Michael Wilder and Will Davis II scored 12 and 10 points respectively, and brought down four rebounds each. John Ryan recorded six blocks and Aaron Wright registered eight assists for the Anteaters. Daman Starring did not play in the game due to a sore foot, so redshirt freshman Reed McConnell got his first action in an Anteater uniform, hitting 2-3 from the three-point line for six points.
Irvine came out sluggish to begin the game. In the first five minutes of the contest, Pacifica hit three consecutive 3-pointers to take a rare 9-5 lead. Coach Turner quickly took a 30-second timeout with 16:23 on the clock to talk it over with his players. The Anteaters went on to outscore Pacifica 53-12 from that point, including a span midway through the half where the Anteaters scored 25 unanswered points.
“I thought this was a perfect game for us. A perfect scheduling decision.” Turner said.
As a team, the Anteaters shot 61.8 percent from the field, including 57.1 percent from the three-point line. They recorded a season-high rebounding total with 66 and had 30 assists as a team — an impressive feat for a team in a blow-out victory. It was exciting to see the Anteaters bounce back after a tough loss on the road, but now they will face another challenge when they travel to Huntsville, Texas for the Progressive Legends Classic Subregional starting Monday to face teams from different parts of the country.
“This is a great opportunity for us to play two games at a neutral site and one game away against teams from another part of the country,” Turner said.