Men’s Basketball Cruises to Victory

St. Xavier 65
UC Irvine 82
The UC Irvine men’s basketball team opened their season with an exhibition win against the Saint Xavier Cougars, 82-65 at the Bren Events Center on Nov. 2. The Anteaters looked impressive in their debut as they used a fast-paced tempo combined with a tenacious defense throughout the majority of the game to get the win.
The first half witnessed a close game with numerous lead changes. It was evident that Saint Xavier came prepared to play.
The Anteaters focused on pushing an up-and-down game after winning the opening tip. Junior guard Chuma Awaji stole the ball from Saint Xavier center Kevin Lowe and darted down the court to score the Anteater’s first basket of the night. Awaji’s steal would be the first of 16 steals the Anteaters would force against the Cougars.
While intense on the defensive end, the Anteaters found themselves in trouble trying to penetrate against the zone defense of the Cougars in the first half. Their offense, however, fed off their pressuring defense as they scored off numerous turnovers, a recurring theme for the remainder of the night. Awaji finished off the half for the Anteaters with another steal and breakaway lay-in as the team took the lead into halftime, 32-31.
‘I was really disappointed at how we played the first half,’ said junior center Darren Fells. ‘But I was surprised at how we turned it around in the second half. I was really proud of how we did.’
The Anteaters came out of halftime with a rougher defense and more polished offensive game. The second half opened with Fells stealing the ball and hitting a jump shot at the elbow. The Anteaters would use Fells at the high post for the remainder of the night, looking for him to make passes to cutting teammates in order to break down Saint Xavier’s zone defense. Despite being quiet in the first half, Fells would dominate his defenders and score on numerous occasions in the second half
‘They told me I had to be a presence inside, so I had to score inside,’ Fells said. ‘If I got double-teamed, I had to kick the ball out so everyone can contribute.’
Junior guard Marcus McIntosh kept up the fast-paced tempo, which resulted in many fast-break opportunities in the second half. McIntosh finished with a game-high four assists and added nine points. The Anteaters expanded their lead to 12 points and seemed to be on their way to a blowout victory. Led by guard Julian Scott, the Cougars rallied to cut the lead down to five with six minutes remaining in the final half.
Despite the rally from the Cougars, the Anteaters stepped up their defense and forced multiple turnovers down the stretch, halting any chance of a comeback the Cougars might have had. The Anteaters finished the game on a 14-5 run securing their win.
The Anteaters had four players in double figures. Fells led a balanced attack with 17 points, five rebounds and six steals, all of which were game highs.
Sophomore forward Adam Templeton and junior forward Patrick Sanders added 13 and 10 points, respectively, while Awaji finished with 15 points.
‘We had to buckle down and get the jitters out,’ McIntosh said. ‘We didn’t really win the way we wanted to. It was sloppy, but we’re thankful we got the win. This shows that there’s always room for improvement.’
Defensively, the Anteaters could not have played any better, forcing 21 turnovers and out-rebounding their opponent, 28-20. Everybody seemed to be on the same page as players gave good weak-side help defense and rotated in the zone.
‘We’re quick and we will shine on the defensive end,’ said UCI Head Coach Pat Douglass. ‘We have to play well on both ends, but defensively, we need to improve, but I think it can be our strongest point as a team.’
The team was without seniors Nic Campbell and Mark Kelley, who sat out due to injuries. Although there is no definite timeframe of return for either player, Douglass hopes to make the most out of his young roster.
‘We have a good group [of players] but some of our veteran players are hurt right now so we’re going with young freshmen,’ Douglass said. ‘But they’re inexperienced, so when we get [Nic and Mark] back, it’ll make a big difference.’
The first home game for the men’s team will be held at the Bren Events Center on Nov. 14 against SEC opponent South Carolina.