Without the pressure of playing in a Big West Conference game and jostling for a tournament position, the UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team let loose against UC Davis and concentrated on what they do best: pushing the tempo of the game.
Coming off a loss they would rather forget against Long Beach State two nights earlier, pushing the ball up court against the Aggies allowed the Anteaters to find energy and life again, and propelled the team to a 77-66 victory over the Aggies at the Bren Events Center on Feb. 19.
Junior forward Jeff Gloger led four Anteaters in double-digit scoring, notching 20 points to go along with eight rebounds. UCI Head Coach Pat Douglass was not surprised at how UCI (12-11) can come together as a team when Gloger leads the way.
‘Any time that Gloger plays well, we play well,’ Douglass said.
Already up six over UC Davis (10-15), Gloger scored four of the first seven points to open up the second half with a 11-4 run that would put the game away.
‘We really stressed getting back into the up-tempo type of game,’ Gloger said. ‘We had a lot of energy. It really paid off tonight.’
UCI junior guard Aaron Fitzgerald agreed.
‘Getting out and running helps a lot of us [get] out of that little slump we might have been in,’ Fitzgerald said.
Gloger said that Douglass let the players push the tempo during the game.
‘After the Long Beach game, we came out and coach let us play and turned the reigns over to us, and allowed us to play with a lot of freedom,’ Gloger said. ‘He wants us to take over. Obviously we have to play within his framework, but we had a lot of freedom and it was enjoyable to play.’
UCI junior guard Ross Schraeder added, ‘We talked a lot about how we needed to get back to playing and having fun out there, and I think we did that tonight.’
With seven minutes left in the second half, the Anteaters went up by 14 points at 54-40 with an incredible layup by freshman forward Darren Fells.
With the shot clock running down, Schraeder chased a ball out of bounds and threw an off-balance prayer toward the basket, from almost behind the backboard.
As the ball came down and fell short of the rim, Fells jumped up, caught the ball and bounced it off the glass to save the play and make it look like an easy alleyoop.
The Aggies would cut that lead down to seven several times down the stretch, but the Anteaters responded each time. Aggie junior center Madison Butts nailed an eight-foot hook shot with 4:26 to go to pull within seven, 58-51, and surprised UCI with a 2-3 zone defense on the next play.
But sophomore forward Nic Campbell made a layup in the lane while being fouled and converted the three-point play to push the lead back up to 10.
Douglass was not only impressed with Gloger, but with the play of the entire team.
‘We had four kids in double figures … so I thought everyone picked it up,’ Douglass said. ‘I was pleased with our effort tonight. [UC Davis] is a tough team to match up against.’
UCI senior center Greg Ethington, Fitzgerald and Campbell joined Gloger in double figures, scoring 14, 10 and 10 points, respectively. Although the Anteaters’ leading scorer, Schraeder, had an off night and only scored seven points, he made his mark in the game by pulling down a game high of nine rebounds.
‘We didn’t do a good job of chasing rebounds against Long Beach, so Schraeder was tough tonight,’ Douglass said. ‘We’re not getting him as many shots, but to still get rebounds, I’m pleased with that.’
Douglass credited Fitzgerald’s improved play with the team’s renewed focus on pushing the tempo.
‘I think that when the games go up and down the court, that’s when [Fitzgerald] plays with more energy.’
The Aggies were paced by sophomore guard Rommel Marentez, who scored a team high 16 points. They shot 45 percent from the field for the game, while the Anteaters shot 52 percent. With each team in the Big West capable of making the conference tournament, Douglass wants to make sure his team takes every game seriously.
‘We’re just going after each game and [trying to] do the best we can,’ Douglass said. ‘We thought this time last year we were going to be in the league tournament and everything went against us. We’re aware that we have to create our own destiny.’