The UC Irvine men’s basketball team capped off their five-game road trip in Las Vegas on Wednesday with a lopsided, 85-57, loss to the no. 24 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (4-1). The game marked the fourth consecutive loss for the Anteaters, who now hold a middling 3-5 record after starting the season 3-1. Over this span, Irvine has shot a dreadful 39.6 percent from the field and have been out-rebounded 144 to 168 in their four losses.
Right out of the gate, UNLV took control of the game with a quick 6-0 start. Two layups from Adam Folker narrowed the margin to 6-4, but the Anteaters would not get within three points of the lead for the rest of the game. UNLV countered with a 15-7 run that gave them their biggest lead of the half, taking a 21-11 lead with 9:23 remaining.
When it looked like UNLV was going to blow the game open, a layup by Alex Young sparked the Anteaters’ run of their own. Led by senior Daman Starring, Irvine outscored the Rebels 11-4 in the ensuing minutes. A layup by Chris McNealy in transition cut the UNLV lead to three points with just under six minutes left in the half.
UNLV coach Dave Rice quickly called a 30-second time-out to talk it over with his team and put a halt to the ’Eaters’ momentum. The Rebels responded by holding the Anteaters to one field goal for the rest of the half, taking a 34-26 lead into the locker room.
It quickly got ugly for the Anteaters, who went ice-cold from the field in the second half. After exchanging baskets for the first four minutes, Irvine was held scoreless for a critical five-minute period that helped UNLV double their lead from 10 to 20 points with 10:28 remaining in the game, completely taking the Anteaters out of the game. The Rebels would extend their lead to as much as 29 points en route to outscoring the Anteaters 51-31 in the second half.
Irvine shot a disappointing 30.8 percent from the field after intermission, making only eight field goals in 26 attempts. It was the second consecutive game the Anteaters fell behind early, and the second time they were not able to recover.
Shooting wasn’t the only frustration for the Anteaters, who committed 15 turnovers and only managed 10 assists. Before the game, the Anteaters were averaging 19.3 assists per game and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.61 — ranking them seventh in the nation. On this night, UNLV’s tenacious defense proved to be too much for the struggling Anteaters, who scored a season-low 57 points.
“The type of defense they play, they get in your face,” Starring said. “They can dictate the game and make you do what they want you to do.”
Starring, who returned to his hometown of Las Vegas, led UCI in scoring for the second consecutive game with a team-high 18 points in 31 minutes of play. The senior hit three of five from three-pointers and five of six from the free-throw line, but turned the ball over five times.
Senior forward Folker was the only other Anteater to score double-figures, finishing up with 12 points on six of 11 shots. Despite his season-high in points, Folker failed to make his mark on the boards, recording only three rebounds on the night — a below-par stat for the team’s leading rebounder.
As a team, the Anteaters were out-rebounded for the second consecutive game and the third time in their previous four games. In this game, second possessions proved costly for the Anteaters, who were outscored 27-9 in second-chance points. Sophomore Mike Best led the team in rebounding with six.
“I knew it would be a tough environment, but we looked intimidated and tentative for the second straight game, and I am surprised by our lack of aggressiveness,” coach Russell Turner said after the game. “[Their physical aggressiveness defensively] really bothered us. It bothered us more than I thought.”
The Anteaters will be happy to return home to the Bren for the first time since Nov. 15 when they take on San Diego Christian on Tuesday, Dec. 4.