UCI Reaches Triple Digits in Season Opener
By the time the final buzzer sounded in its game against Cal State Dominguez Hills, the UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team (1-0) accomplished something is has never achieved before under Head Coach Pat Douglass.
A feat that no team led by legendary UCI guard Jerry Green was ever able to reach.
For the first time since 1994, UCI scored over 100 points.
The Anteaters scored 106 points, to be exact, and routed CSUDH (0-1) 106-69 in the game, the first of the season for both squads, in front of 1,478 in attendance on Nov. 19 at the Bren Events Center.
UCI was on fire the entire night, shooting 58 percent from the field and 55 percent from beyond the arc. Their defense limited the Toros to only 31 percent shooting during the game. In general, Douglass liked how his team performed, except in one area.
‘Defensively, [CSUDH shooting] 31 percent is pretty good,’ Douglass said. ‘But [CSUDH] were really quick to the ball. [CSUDH] had 20 offensive rebounds. That’s way, way too many.’
‘I thought we came out and played well. It’s good to get that first win under our belts,’ said junior guard Ross Schraeder. ‘We had a little too many turnovers and gave up some offensive rebounds, and we need to work on that.’
As in its previous two exhibition games, the Anteaters raced out to an early lead, jumping ahead 20-6 on an amazing hustle play by freshman forward Darren Fells.
Fells was unsuccessful in his attempt to grab a defensive rebound in between two CSUDH players. As he was chasing the ball out of bounds, Fells jumped over a table and tumbled onto his back in front of fans to avoid getting hurt.
Although the ball was back in the Toros’ possession, Fells’ efforts on the previous possession would not be in vain; he stole the inbound pass and dished it to junior guard Aaron Fitzgerald for an easy fast-break layup.
With a starting lineup that consists of three guards, including Fitzgerald, Schraeder and junior guard Jeff Gloger, Douglass hopes that this season’s team will play a more up-tempo style of game and push the ball up court.
‘We’re playing with three guards, so we have to push it,’ Douglass said. ‘We still have to run a good half court offense, but we’re going to look to break.’
Pushing the tempo will be, in part, to utilize Fitzgerald’s playmaking skills.
‘I thought Aaron Fitzgerald handled the press well. He was able to create offense for us,’ Douglass said. ‘Fitzgerald has some vision on the court that you don’t see in a lot of players.’
‘Once [CSUDH] started pressing, it really opened up the court,’ Fitzgerald explained. ‘I think we just got a lot of open shots tonight. People were confident, and just knocked shots down.’
Unlike the two previous games, UCI came out aggressive in the second half, both on offense and defense.
Minutes into the second half, after Schraeder missed a spot-up three-pointer, Gloger grabbed the offensive rebound and attempted a three-point shot of his own from the baseline that also rimmed out.
Sophomore center Andrew Bruckner was in the post and grabbed the offensive rebound. He tried to lob the ball in, but was unsuccessful.
Instead of giving up on the play, senior forward Greg Ethington ran into the key, caught the ball and banked it off the glass and into the net, finally ending the possession and embarrassing CSUDH defenders who forgot to box him out.
Even in garbage time, with the win already secured, the Anteaters continued to tally points.
Within a three-minute stretch in the second half, it seemed as if UCI couldn’t miss a shot as freshman guard Davis Baker, sophomore forward Nic Campbell and junior guard Shamar Armstrong all hit three-pointers.
It was only fitting that with time running out, Baker would sink a three-pointer from 25 feet out, directly in front of a CSUDH defender.
Schraeder scored 17 points in 23 minutes of play. Fitzgerald was the playmaker, handing out nine assists to go with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
Ethington pulled down eight rebounds and scored a game-high 22 points.
Although the win was impressive, it was against a Division II school and, at times, the Anteaters seemed to struggle with inbounding the ball and getting the ball across half-court against the Toros’ full-court press.
But the team believes this game will help them when they travel to Los Angeles next week to take on perennial powerhouses USC and UCLA.
‘It’s definitely going to be a lot tougher,’ Fitzgerald said. ‘We’re just going to go out with the same game plan and hopefully it works.’
‘Obviously USC is much more talented than Dominguez, but they play very similarly in that they pressure a lot,’ Douglass said. ‘I don’t know if we can upset them at their place, but we need to be on the court and play with confidence, with purpose and [be] aggressive. … That attitude will be important as we go and play these games.’